Laguna Beach, California, United States
The Royal Hawaiian opened in 1947. It was owned by the Cabang family. The Cabangs were originally from the Phillipines and were friends with both of the Fillipino Tiki carvers in L.A. at the time, Milan Guanko and Andres Bumatay. These talented artists both supplied Tikis for the restaurant. The prominent Andres Bumatay tikis outside the restaurant became weathered and destroyed and were later replaced by modern carvings.
The Royal Hawaiian also had a sister location located in Anaheim in the 1950s.
The Royal Hawaiian has been through several iterations. It originally had several small dining rooms with glass-walled dioramas filled with tikis and plants, great lamps, bamboo, thatch and sea grass matting, and a bar with a fireplace and pufferfish. There were lovely oil paintings throughout, including a large piece hung directly above the hostess stand.
In spring 2006, the restaurant was sold to a new owner, who gutted it. The newer, tiki-stripped version closed for good in 2012. In 2016, the space reopened, again with the name Royal Hawaiian, this time by people who wanted to bring back its rich tiki history. The new owners, Mo Honarkar and daughters Hasty and Nikisa, worked to bring back a fully-decorated Royal Hawaiian with the help of Bamboo Ben.
However in January-February 2019, the restaurant was closed for yet another remodel and then re-opened under the auspices of chef Mariano “Maro” Molteni. Honarkar’s company remained as landlords, while Molteni owned and operated the restaurant which he rebranded as the "Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill". Molteni's remodel (which came as a surprise to the landlords) removed much of Bamboo Ben's decor, especially natural materials like lauhala matting and thatching in favor of dark blue painted walls and a "cleaner" and "less cluttered" look. There were still tikis and accent pieces, but the interior was much reduced from its former full tiki glory.
On July 15th, 2022, Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill announced its closure for the end of that same month, on July 31st, 2022 .
This current version of the Royal Hawaiian opened May 27th, 2023.
Following the 2022 closure of the last iteration of the Royal Hawaiian, the space was turned over to Boulevard Hospitality for a complete transformation. The new build-out was completed by Ignacio “Notch” Gonzales, famous for building spaces like Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco and Inside Passage in Seattle.
The exterior tikis were replaced with brand new reproductions of the Andres Bumatay tikis that originally graced the restaurant.
A huge clam shell was added for people to sit in for photo ops (similar to the one used at the Golden Tiki in Las Vegas).
The display case was filled with a number of headhunter skulls which were fabricated by Reesenik.
The bathroom was wallpapered with large overlapping versions of the botanical drink recipe prints that Eric October has been making for several years.
To round out the new experience, the Royal Hawaiian’s owners have brought on famed barman Dushan Zaric of Employees Only to build a bespoke cocktail menu that riffs, weaves, and rethinks the rum-forward staples of tiki lore.
*NOTE: For the 1947-2006 version or for the 2006-2022 version see separate listings.
Visited here with Ilene and had a Chief Lapu Lapu, a Banana Smuggler, and the Baby Back Ribs. Also shared a PuPu Platter and slice of Coconut Cake. The decor was amazing, service was excellent, and the Lapu Lapu as good or better than any I've had in the past!