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Escape to the Islands

An Inside Look at Mai-Kai Polynesian Restaurant

Escape to the islands without leaving Florida by visiting the Mai-Kai Polynesian Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Featuring artifacts from different islands, the restaurant offers an authentic South Pacific experience. “Every room is named after a different island,” explains Pia Dahlquist, Director of Sales and Marketing at the Mai-Kai. Each of the eight dining rooms contains items and décor from a specific island, with no detail spared, from the bamboo chairs to the shades on the lamps.

The Mai-Kai opened in 1956 and was expanded to twice the size in the early 1970’s as it gained popularity. According to Dahlquist, the owners have been with the restaurant since the beginning and they are always re-painting and adding new artifacts to add to the restaurant’s authenticity. Speaking of authentic, the Mai-Kai is home to two Cantonese ovens. (There are only four in the U.S.!) The most popular menu items are those that are made with this oven. “We have an oak fire going, we hang the meat…ducks, steak, chicken, ribs, over the fire.” The temperature the meat is cooked depends on how high or low the meat is hung. For example, if you like your steak rare, these experienced chefs will hang it farther away from the flame.

Although Mai-Kai boasts some of the most delicious Polynesian delicacies in the United States, it is much more than your typical dining experience. After eating a scrumptious dinner and sipping on a few of the restaurant’s (fifty-one!) drink options, you will enjoy the essence of Polynesia in the form of song and dance. Restaurant owner Mireille Thornton choreographs a new dance each year that encompasses village life in the South Pacific. Performers are from the islands and the costumes are made by Thornton from scratch. “Most of the performers are dancers already when they start here, we have generations of dancers. Their parents might have been dancers here,” says Dahlquist. In the summer, there are performances featuring trained child dancers every Sunday. This family-oriented show features a segment where children in the audience are invited up on stage to learn a dance.

When you’re in Ft. Lauderdale, the Mai-Kai is not only a must-visit attraction, it is as Dahlquist calls it, “an escape from life.” “It’s so unique, it’s so tropical. You’ve got to see it to believe it. Seeing is believing when it comes to the Mai-Kai.”

- By Ettractions Digital Content Editor PAULA MARINO 

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