Sally, our friend in Sonoita, wrote us that she and her sister had gone to Kon Tiki in Tucson recently and recommended it. OK, I thought. It’s a bit of a hike for us on the West Side of Tucson, but we should go. So Ms. Karen, Neighbor Roy, and I headed east on Broadway almost to Swan to experience Polynesian BBQ and atmosphere.
I read somewhere that this was one of the last of a series of Kon Tiki restaurants and Tiki bars that had once dotted the American landscape. It’s been around since the 50’s and was named for the famous explorer who set sail on a raft from Chile to Polynesia to prove that it could be done. Amazingly, he succeeded and then wrote the book, Kon Tiki. I read it when I was about 9 years old. I recall that it told a compelling tale of high adventure on the open Pacific Ocean. So I was looking forward to reliving that story by dining at Tucson’s Kon Tiki restaurant.
Anyway, this is what Sally wrote to us about her Kon Tiki experience.
“My sister decided she wanted to go to Kon Tiki for her birthday lunch. She ordered the combination plate appetizer (serves two) which she’s had before. It consisted of four tender polynesian BBQ ribs, two rather large Hawaiian fried shrimp and either two or four crab puffs. $11.50. I ordered the BBQ pork sandwich. 1/2 lb of pulled pork on a brioche bun, then topped with bacon & slaw. I got the bacon & slaw on the side. $11.00. Both were excellent.
I’ll send pics. We all really liked our lunch. My sis got her appetizer of ribs, shrimp, crab puffs. We others had the Samoan BBQ beef sandwich. Got the coleslaw and bacon on the side. Shel and I got a salad as our side. Judy got the fries and said they were good.”
Ms. Karen ordered the Artichoke Dip and Chips. Roy ordered the Orange Chicken with Rice. I ordered the Combination Plate Appetizer that Sally’s sister ordered. I was going to also order the Black and Blue Cheeseburger, but Ms. Karen talked me out of it saying that would be way too much food. As it turned out, she was right, as usual.
I’ll let Roy tell you about his experience.
“Today, Jim, his wife Karen, and I went to KON_TIKI Restaurant on Broadway east of Alvernon. It had been many years since I had last visited this restaurant when they were on N.Oracle set near my then Tucson house. I was a frequent visitor, that was back in the 1970s, when I was 50 years younger. It remains one of Tucson’s finest restaurants in theme decor, very well done. We were promptly seated and drink orders taken. They had no tea, was offered coffee but I settled for a sprite. I ordered the orange chicken and settled back to my memories of when they were on Oracle. We observed that the bartender was also waiter and busboy. Multiple tasks for one person, he deserves Kudos for his performance. The restaurant was mildly busy.”
“I selected orange chicken for my main dish. What came was a fair-sized bowl, with numerous balls of chicken, a mound of white rice in the center, and orange slices on top of the rice. It was well presented, but frankly, I’ve had better in Chinese restaurants in Tucson. Still it was a lot of food for a moderate price (14.95).”
“I would give it 3 saguaros. They need to work on staffing and some on the food before I would consider returning.”
I had overheard Jim and Friend Sally talking last week about a restaurant in town called Kon Tiki. It brought back memories I had of a Kon Tiki restaurant somewhere, Los Angeles, San Francisco, I don’t know but I distinctly recall the Island feeling and the Mai Tai’s that it brought to mind. So I looked it up. Apparently, this Kon Tiki is one of the last of a large number of Kon Tiki restaurants that were constructed after the book, Kon Tiki, came out in print. I thought it was a chain or a franchise, but there was no indication that a franchise existed except for the similarity of decor. Actually, it is much like Hawaii tourist restaurant decor, without the ocean breeze. This restaurant has survived for over 50 years. Anyway, last week we ended up traveling out to east Tucson to see whether or not my nostalgia was satisfied.
We arrived around noon, found a parking spot, and made our way past the Hungry Fox, which was packed and through the tropical brush and over the bridge to the front door. It was very dark, with points of light here and there. There was no host or hostess so we picked a table with some light to read the menus. When the menus did not promptly arrive, I found a Q-R code on the table and was able to access a menu from there but difficult to share on an iPhone. Just as I was reading it to the men, the bartender showed up with our menus.
I thought this was going to be a great place due to all the Polynesian dishes available, and I knew how Roy liked Coconut Shrimp.
I can no longer drink at lunch as my afternoon tends to be worthless after that and even though I am recently retired from my real job, I find I am keeping quite busy with Southern Arizona Guide and the household. That said, I order Tea. No Tea. Okay, coffee. I have been cold for days. It is winter in the desert.
Not being hungry, I ordered a “PuPu”, Artichoke and Spinach Dip with chips. The dip was OK, not delicious, but then I was not hungry. The chips were seasoned with something red, not cayenne or I would have noticed, not paprika, too dull. Does anyone know? I would have asked but our bartender, the only wait staff there at noon on a Friday, was a little busy.
Upon exit, I walked out back where there was a small outdoor patio. It was pleasant enough for seating on a warm, not hot, day. It seemed odd to me that there was no access to the bar from there. Also, a high rise commercial building had gone up just west of the patio, which might be a good thing on a hot summer day. (Shade).
Kon Tiki was both nostalgic and in need of an update. or at least a paint job, skylights and easy access to the bar, maybe a few bar stools. All in all, it is a minor miracle, that it is one of the last of its kind, and that the pandemic did not kill it. I give it 3 saguaros and an E for effort.
My Combo Appetizer was just OK. The crab puffs were not very interesting. The shrimp was really good. But the BBQ ribs were tough and, without the BBQ sauce, mostly tasteless. My margarita was just OK. Perhaps should have ordered their Mai Tai. Surely, the decor was interesting, representing a Polynesian beach hut with Tiki symbols about.
I agree with Roy’s and Karen’s assessments and rate Kon Tiki with only 3 Saguaros. Clearly, Sally and her lady friends thought much better of this place. So whose ranking should you trust? How ’bout you give Kon Tiki a try yourself and let us know what you think.