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What's the deal with Bali Hai?

OK, I have passed this place on the freeway so many times and am always wondering whether it would be worth stopping by (even for the kitsch value). Am I right that it's one of those cheesy 1950's era Polynesian places? Is it even worth a try? Is it the kind of place you can get ridiculous fruity drinks with umbrellas in them? What's the ambiance like? I usually see a few cars in the parking lot but I wonder if it ever gets actually crowded, say on the weekends.

While we're on the topic - I have seen a few mentions of Kowloon on the boards, and wonder if there are other similar places around Boston that might be worth checking out for a laugh. (And yes, I am familiar with the flaming volcano room at ECG.)

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  1. *shudder*
    I went to Bali Hai once and refuse to go back. My boyfriend and his friends go for the Mai Tais and boneless spare ribs.

    I'm pretty sure the last update they did was to add Keno to the bar area.

    1. The place used to be a pretty seedy place in the 80's. It's famous enough for the late Amazing Crowns to write a song titled "Trouble at Bali Hai", which is about the guitarist basically crashing his car into a cop car in the Bali Hai parking lot.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Chrispy75

        A+ for the Amazing Royal Crowns reference.

      2. The Bali Hai is god awful, even keeping with the cheesy polynesian theme. The Kowloon is definately the spot for fountains, volcano's, umbrella drinks and surprisingly decent cheesy americanized Chinese food. Sit in the fountain room and remember the pupu platter and Zombie's!!

        1. Thanks to Joyce Chen, Boston had a plethora of Polynesian rests. in the 50's. A lot of these places are throwbacks to this era in every sense of the word. In one place, near Newton Centre, you can eat under a fake thatched hut and "look out" at a wallpaper view of a beach. I've generally found that these places have awful food. I'd take decent dumplings over kitsch any day. My parents had their rehearsal dinner at Aku Aku!

          2 Replies
          1. re: Chocolate Mousse

            Pardon a pedantic history interlude, but Joyce Chen was not about Polynesian food at all. She is a local culinary Revered Person for introducing and popularizing authentic Mandarin cuisine in the US, starting with her Cambridge restaurant in the late 50s, later with a popular WGBH cooking show and cookbooks. Thanks to her, millions of Americans sought out Peking duck, hot and sour soup, and moo shu pork instead of chop suey and chow mein.

            She coined the term "Peking ravioli" for pan-fried potstickers, and invented the flat-bottomed wok for use on electric cooktops. She might have had a pupu platter on her menu as a concession to local tastes (I don't know, I never did get to visit her place), but she should be remembered first and foremost in connection with Beijing cuisine.

            (And yes, Aku Aku was really dreadful.)

            1. re: MC Slim JB

              My first meal at Joyce Chen was revelatory. I was taken by a teacher, who ordered all of his favorite items for a group of receptive kids. Though I was only 15, I knew that I was in the presence of greatness. After this meal, I could never eat Americanized Asian food again. Joyce Chen brought a new cuisine to many people in the area, and was a true destination.

              I only made it back once before her empire imploded. I still bore my DC about these two special meals every time we drive by the original restaurant's site.

          2. I drive by Bali Hai in Lynnfield all the time. I haven't eaten there in 20+ years. Believe it or not 20+ years ago the Chinese/Polynesian food was pretty good at Bali Hai. I'm sure it's gone way down hill since then. I'm surprised that they are still open. Whenever I drive by the parking lot is not packed.

            1. That was not MY electric blue leisure suit they found ditched in the trash bin back in '76, it wasn't, honest.

              1. Back in the 1980s, I once saw an all-Chinese band there doing Doors cover songs in broken English. It was something I'll never forget. ;-b

                1. A few months ago, some friends and I were driving by and were curious. The drinks were some of the worst tiki drinks that I have ever had (but for some reason we all ordered a second round) and the pot stickers were pretty gross. If you want the best tiki drinks, check out Spring Blossom in West Roxbury.

                  1. I've always wondered about that place. Thanks folks, now I won't have to. All I needed to hear was the comparison to Aku Aku which redefined the word mediocre.

                    1. The worst is South Pacific in Newton, is it even still there? Last time i went there we were horrified to be able to "count the rings" in the chicken fingers. Apparantly what they were doing to freshed the leftovers each day was to rebatter and fry them. Was really nasty.

                      For poly chinese as a kid we used to go to Lanai Island in Waltham where the Bertuccis now is, used to be a movie theatre there as well.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: hargau

                        Agree about the South Pacific's food, though Kenny the bartender used to make a mean drink there. Sometimes the food didn't taste all that bad, thanks to Kenny. :-D

                        1. re: hargau

                          Yes it is still there, a lady I work with swears by it. The last time I went it was AWFUL.

                          1. Food at the Bali Hai can be quite good. The owner is the chef, and he'll prepare just about anything you want the way you want it. Can get a little noisy, as the bar is next door, but the prices and the food are very good.

                            1. I dunno.....Bali Hai always seemed like the type of place where no one actually "went" there; instead, you always "ended up" there.

                              Kinda like Denny's.....

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: hiddenboston

                                The Tahiti in Dedham is another perfect example of that.

                                1. re: Bostonbob3

                                  Agreed - though I have fond early childhood memories of eating there, back when they gave you those fried bits of wonton wrapper. I went back for a nostalgic journey, and the interior was actually much less interesting than I remembered, though the fried shrimp was still the same - a brine shrimp hidden in a greasy cruller.

                              2. I have always wondered about that place too, reminds me of the Aku-Aku era of Chinese Food joints. I thought the guy that owned that died a few years ago, I remember seeing it in the paper.
                                BostonBob is the Tahiti near the Amazing store? I think I ended up there once myself.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: LovesFoieGras

                                  Yeah, it's REAL close to Amazing. Not that I would know where the Amazing store is mind you... :)

                                  1. re: Bostonbob3

                                    I believe the Tahiti is right across from the Amazing store, which is right next to the Sleepy Mattress store.

                                    1. re: galleygirl

                                      It would be disturbing to think that there might be some folks who hit all three places in one night. :-D

                                      1. re: hiddenboston

                                        As long as last one isn't the mattress store just before I go in to purchase a Sealy.

                                        1. re: hiddenboston

                                          I dunno, there's a certain symmetry to it....

                                          1. re: galleygirl

                                            Yeah, I suppose you're right. What's the address again? ;-b

                                            I'm tempted to go back to Bali Hai and South Pacific again, just to compare the cheese factor of both places. I do have fond memories of both places, not for their food, but for the over-the-top tackiness.

                                      2. re: Bostonbob3

                                        Right, right..of course you dont, and I dont know that Ladies night is Tuesday.

                                    2. went to Bali Hai a couple times a couple years ago and it was ok, but then we got take out and got home and it was the foulest rottenest shrimp i ever smelled! We live nearby and wish we could go back but never can after that... Kowloon is your best bet. Most over the top kitsch and the food has seemed to improve. It was really good, even the sushi last few times we went. For really old fashioned nostalgic trips back in time, but not really that much kitsch, the food is surprisingly not too bad at China Moon in Stoneham and Oriental Jade in Peabody. They have one form of kitsch: on Friday nites, bad karaoke singers.. its a fun kitchy nite out.. Although the food in the karaoke room was bad compared to the restarurant food. not sure why. People seem to like Fantasy Island for old fashioned Chinese in Swampscott, actually Salem , but i find it mediocre. Does anyone know if Chins Village in Natick still exists?

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: chompie

                                        Sadly, Chin's Village in Natick / Wellesley line burned down back in 1988. It was replaced by an office park. Never will forget Sizzling Steak Fiji or their great spareribs. It was a favorite for birthdays.

                                      2. Just went to the Tahiti last night, hoping for a Kowloonesque experience closer to where family lives, unfortunately not so much. Looked like the lounge was the best place to be, but we sat in the dining room.

                                        We'll have to do the trek to Kowloon next visit! I also second the recommendation for China Moon, as I love the decor.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: modbetty

                                          Oh God, The Tahiti is definitely NOT like the Kowloon. It's a dark , slightly creepy place with pretty horrible food.

                                          The Kowloon has better lighting.

                                        2. I miss the old Diamond Head on Rt.1 in Saugus. Bali Hai is nothing short of disgusting. Last time we were there, the place smelled like the sewerage had backed up. Kowloon is mediocre IMO. China Moon has good (not great) food, but a boring ambience. Recently discovered a wonderful restaurant in Bedford called Bamboo. Very good chinese/ asian cuisine.

                                          1. Sad to say, I've dined there on more than one occasion. It ranks right there among the utter worst Chinese restaurants I've ever eaten at, rivaled only by the Hong Kong and Yenching Palace (both in Cambridge), and akin to two other notoriously bad long-gone Cambridge places, the Aku Aku and the Young and Yee. Even Kowloon's, awful as they are, is better -- but just barely.

                                            At least the service is not hopelessly unfriendly at Bali Hai, which is what for me pushes the Hong Kong into sole possession of last place in my book.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: bachslunch

                                              Believe it or not, if you order some of the authentic, traditional seafood dishes at the Hong Kong in Cambridge, they aren't so bad. But I try to avoid the place, mainly because it brings back memories of rather ugly nights of scorpion bowls and really terrible attempts at dancing.

                                            2. Funny, I went to a local place (Sunny Palace, East Brunswick, NJ) for Chinese New Year and memories flooded back of this place. (Bali Hai).

                                              I went with my wife (we were just dating then) my grandmother and my uncle. It had to be 15 years ago. The food was actually quite good, but we were there at like 6pm and the place was completely empty.

                                              At that point it appeared to be going downhill, so I believe that its probably still on a downward trajectory.

                                              Nostalgic Pictures here: http://www.critiki.com/cgi-bin/pictur...

                                              1. OK, this thread has somehow killed my appetite, but provided more than a couple of laughs. I lived about a five minute drive from Aku Aku for years and passed it hundreds of times, often while hungry, but couldn't be talked into going in. I was fussy about my dives. I guess I could bookmark this thread for future use as an appetite suppressant.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Betty Boop

                                                  Used to be our hangout for lunch, worked near there long...long ago. It was medicore then but who cared we were just extending lunch to the max and they didn't care if we hung out and drank etc. Like someone said up top, we didn't plan on going there but always ended up there.

                                                2. as i've been in a Tiki mood lately a friend and I went to Bali Hai a few weeks back specifically for crappy Tiki drinks and to sit at the sunken bar.
                                                  alas, that bar is no more and i was told it was changed quite a while ago.

                                                  we ended up sitting in the DR. the drinks were Awful as was most of the food. the only thing that was decent was the Pork Fried Rice and Egg Rolls, but i was pretty hammered by then.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: ScubaSteve

                                                    Bali Hai was great for underage drinking in high school in the 70s - one of our fav hangouts - that and the Jade East in Tewksbury. I love it for that. And that alone. Having said that, it makes me sad the bar is gone.

                                                    1. re: Small Plates

                                                      We must have sat near each other at the bar. In the early 70's, we sat at the bar, ordered a pupu platter, and at 17 got smashed on Tiki bowls. Luckily, my best friend was a reborn type of guy, and he got us home.