By Gavin Arucan | Staff Writer
Whenever a prominent restaurant opens its doors for the first time in ʻOahu, the island community will always rush over to try the new eatery, especially when it’s a restaurant chain from the mainland. No matter how potentially disappointing it may be, us locals grow excited to get in on anything the mainland had been keeping to itself. That’s why most Hawaiʻi families will flock to Trader Joe’s or In-N-Out Burger whenever they’re in the mainland, and that’s also why the news that Chipotle Mexican Grill might possibly be opening in Hawaiʻi is so important. We were even ready to fork over our wallets for mediocre Italian food when Olive Garden was supposed to open in Kapolei Commons back in 2014. There’s a lot that’s kept from our isolated islands, so it’s natural to want in on the mainland’s exclusivity.
Luckily for our hungering taste buds, Applebee’s recently opened up two new locations on ʻOahu. The first, which opened in October of 2016, is located in Ewa, while the second opened in April 2017 in Kapolei’s Ka Makana Aliʻi mall. With over 1,990 restaurants, Applebee’s was operating in every state in the United States except for Hawaiʻi until now. Now that the ʻOahu is finally able to enjoy this popular, albeit strangely named, mainland-based restaurant, how does it fare in our food-loving culture?
While I haven’t yet been to the ‘Ewa location, it’s safe to say that, based on many Yelp reviews and a less than kind report from my family, one should avoid the ‘Ewa restaurant. My parents, and many Yelp reviewers as it seems, received poor and gratingly slow service from the Applebee’s employees. The experience was apparently so inadequate that my parents were resistant when I wanted to bring them to the Kapolei restaurant for my first time there. I did finally have the chance to sit down at the Kapolei location for dinner on two separate occasions within the last month, so the continuing review will be of my experience at that location.
The servers at the Kapolei Applebee’s were gladly punctual. Mal quickly sat us at our table, served us water, and took our appetizer orders very soon after. Outside of one appetizer plate with a few pieces of shredded cheese caked on it, the service was good. If you want to go to Applebee’s, even if you live on the east side, I recommend taking the extra twelve-minute drive past ‘Ewa to Ka Makana Aliʻi.
The Kapolei location sits on the outside of Ka Makana Aliʻi (91-5431 Kapolei Pkwy), just a little towards Macy’s from where Hampton Inn and Moena Cafe are situated. The restaurant is spacious, especially when compared to its ‘Ewa counterpart. The decor is very clean and modern. During the two times I ate at Applebee’s it was fairly empty, even though it was Happy Hour.
For our appetizers, we ordered the Brew Pub Pretzels with Beer Cheese Dip and the Salsa Verde Beef Nachos. Since it was Happy Hour at the time, the appetizers were half off, so be sure to eat between 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM if you want to save money. The appetizers themselves were flavorful and easily the best items on the menu. I usually find pretzels very bland, but the pretzel sticks paired with the unique cheese dip were actually great without being too salty. The nachos were drenched in two types of cheeses, queso blanco (white liquid cheese) and shredded cheddar cheese, which is exactly how I like my nachos. The dish was also topped with ground beef, sour cream, pico de gallo, and dry jalepenos. Because of the sheer amount of toppings, this is the first time I wanted a restaurant to put more tortilla chips in their nachos.
When it came to order our entrees, I got the BBQ Brisket Tacos because it was a new item on the menu. The taco contained shredded brisket, BBQ sauce, shredded cheddar cheese, fried onions, and ranch dressing. The dish was also served with french fries and coleslaw on the side. The BBQ Brisket Tacos reminded me of a totally passable dish from a restaurant like Chili’s or Outback Steakhouse. It’s fine, but the taste is nothing you haven’t had before.
However, the dish I ordered on my second visit surpassed my expectations. The Shrimp Wonton Stir Fry from the “Lighter Fare” section of the menu might become one of the more preferred Applebee’s dishes by locals. First off, it’s served with rice, the most essential component of any good meal in Hawaiʻi. The tender shrimp and crunchy wonton strips contrasted perfectly to create a variety of textures and flavors in one entree. The dumpling sauce with the stir-fry vegetables also added a slightly spicy taste as well as an overall oriental feel. The Shrimp Wonton Stir Fry will pale in comparison to any authentic oriental dishes crafted by one of ʻOahu’s many expert chefs, but for a mainland chain, Applebee’s healthy, oriental entree is a welcomed addition to the menu.
With that said, Applebee’s is only worth a visit for its delicious appetizers, especially if you live far from the west side. While the stir fry is amazing, I would recommend just ordering several appetizers and sharing it amongst the table. With the exception of the appetizers, Applebee’s seems like just another decent restaurant to go to if you’re in the area. If you’ve been to Chili’s, you already know what to expect.