Review: Tiki and Terrific Views at Bali Hai

I’ve had a lifelong fondness for almost anything even remotely Tiki or Polynesian, most likely the result of too many visits to Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room. A few hours south, in San Diego, that means a stop at the terrific Bali Hai restaurant on Shelter Island. The atmosphere is wonderful with décor that evokes the South Seas, and seems to be lost somewhere between historic gallery and modern Tiki Bar.

Mr Bali Hai

Mr. Bali Hai greets guests at his namesake San Diego restaurant.

The scene is set as soon as you pull up and are greeted by Mr. Bali Hai and the lush landscaping. Inside and upstairs you find Polynesian crafts, artwork and wood carvings from the South Pacific. The dining room is filled with dark wood and bamboo furnishings throughout the large, circular space that looks through panoramic windows to a stunning view, one of the restaurant’s star attractions. Situated at the tip of Shelter Island, the restaurant looks back across the bay towards the downtown skyline and offers fantastic views from the outdoor patio and from the “Top of the Isle Room.” We arrived about an hour before sunset, so we had the opportunity to watch boats on the bay and the lights of San Diego come to life.

San Diego Skyline at Night

The San Diego skyline as seen from Bali Hai on Shelter Island.

Drinks and appetizers, which they call Kama’ Aina, are suitably South Seas themed. The bar is known for its Mai Tai, but there are a myriad of Tiki cocktails like the Zombie, the Scorpion Bowl, or Mr. Bali Hai, complete with a signature souvenir mug for your own Tiki collection. Our party included teenagers, who the bar accommodated with “virgin mocktails”. Our appetizers included Hawaiian Tuna Poke and Coconut Shrimp, which were great. Prices for most drinks are $6 to $7, appetizers range from about $5 to $15.

Dinner at Bali Hai

Seafood and Hawaiian fried rice were our choices from the South Seas themed menu.

While the menu includes steaks, duck and more, we all ordered seafood: scallops, Ahi Tuna, and Mahi Mahi. All were good though not outstandingly so, and certainly not overwhelming portions given that entrees start around $20. The accompanying sides were good as well, particularly the fried rice with Spam and pineapple – Hawaiian style. Unfortunately, we didn’t save room for desert…which gives us a reason to return! While another couple seated nearby was apparently not happy with their server, ours was polite and attentive.

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While we had a quiet(ish) family dinner with teenagers in tow, locals seem to find it a great place for any gathering. During our visit, we saw couples enjoying romantic dinners, friends meeting at the bar, a family birthday celebration, and even a wedding reception in a private room downstairs! Overall, our time at Bali Hai was a great experience that we’d highly recommend for anyone with a fondness for fun, Tiki, and awesome views.

Photos © 2013

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