The Cheesecake Factory in Kapolei is a bit of a drive for town folks, but unlike the Waikiki location, it offers a happy hour.
The restaurant is an easy find, at the east entrance to Ka Makana Ali‘i, adjacent to Kualakai Parkway. Plenty of storefront parking is available at 4 p.m. on a Friday, and to our delight, the long lines that seem to perpetually spill out of the restaurant’s doors in Waikiki are absent here.
There’s plenty of open seating inside and out on the patio, but only the bar seats and tables in the bar area serve happy hour.
As with any Cheesecake Factory, stepping inside is like entering a spectacular ballroom promising family fun. There are high ceilings, grand pillars and a colorful swirl of light fixtures in bold orange, along with a case displaying myriad slices of their famous desserts.
We were seated at a booth, and immediately tantalized by the smell of warm bread. We could see a band setting up just outside.
Voices and light laughter mingle in the air, and there’s a vibe of calm and ease as people trickle in from work, right before the evening bustle hits.
THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY
Ka Makana Ali’i, Kapolei
Happy hour: 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays
>> Select cocktails, $6.50
>> Select appetizers, $6.95
Manager Ramiro Chavez said that even though Waikiki boasts its lion’s share of tourists, his location welcomes plenty of guests from the Ko Olina Resort and the new Hampton Inn and Embassy Suites hotels in the area.
The Kapolei clientele also includes many local families. “We get lots of families, and lots and lots of parties,” Chavez said.
As he spoke, sweet island music filled the space, as two young men began to play on an outdoor stage, their music carried by indoor speakers.
The happy-hour menu comprises two pages of drink and appetizer specials — all full-size portions offered at a reduced price.
An additional small-plates menu isn’t discounted, but consists of items unavailable at the Waikiki location.
The dishes were all attractively prepared, nothing was at all greasy, and the food arrived hot, fresh and tasty.
We started with the hot spinach and cheese dip and avocado egg rolls, which along with the appetizers are $6.95 each — a real deal when you consider both are normally $13.95.
The dip was served piping hot and thick with spinach, artichoke hearts, shallots and garlic, along with a side of chips and salsa. The cheese didn’t take the spotlight; it was more a way of deliciously melding all that spinach and those artichoke hearts.
The menu doesn’t list the mix of cheeses, but they tasted aged and robust with a lemon-Parmesan flavor. Each dipped chip was something to savor. We’ll definitely be back for this one.
Next came our egg rolls ($13.95), six fried pieces stuffed with avocado and resting on a bed of crispy noodles. Lighter than the first dish, they were chewy and a delight in both flavor and texture. The dish incorporates sun-dried tomato, red onion and cilantro, with a dipping sauce of tamarind and cashews.
For our main dishes, I ordered sweet corn tamale cakes ($12.95) and Factory Nachos ($13.95).
The cakes were presented on a boat of corn husks — and were very good, though a tad sweet. Next time I will request some heat. The three corn patties were fluffy and packed with fresh bits of corn throughout, with a festive spread of tomato, sour cream, avo and cilantro piled on top.
The nachos were a bed of tortilla chips spread thin and loaded with cheese, a scoop each of sour cream, salsa and guacamole, and a scattering of green onions and jalapenos. (No beans, to my surprise.) My partner added a topping of kalua pork (additional $2). It’s hard to go wrong with nachos, especially when they’re absolutely covered in cheese.
We also ordered pork belly sliders ($12.95) and a Happy Hour Burger, not on the regular menu.
My date loved his sliders, a set of three buns stacked with smoked pork belly, barbecue sauce, coleslaw and fried pickles. He described them as a mix of tender and crispy textures, set off with a nice kick.
He was less enthusiastic about his burger — although it came with double patties and double cheese, at half the price of a regular burger. Still, he felt the caramelized onions could use some succulence and zest, and that the patties would be better less well done.
Happy-hour specialty cocktails are $6.50 each. We tried the Big Island Iced Tea ($13), Lava Flow ($11.50) and Blue Hawaiian ($11.50), as they are only available in Hawaii. We also ordered the Cosmopolitan ($13.75).
Big Island Iced Tea is a tropical take on Long Island iced tea, with passion fruit and pineapple thrown into the mix of vodka, rum and tequila. The drink was sweet and the spirits strong, with a dominant flavor of pineapple, augmented with slices of pineapple and lemon.
Lava Flow was our favorite; we quickly drained the cocktail of blended rum and coconut, swirled with banana and strawberry puree. The rim came dipped in toasted coconut, and it tasted like a fruity smoothie, with barely a hint of alcohol.
The Blue Hawaiian hit the back of the throat with a zingy, tangy bite, accompanied by a dominant note of pineapple. Made with pineapple and coconut rums, blue Curacao, and fresh lemon and lime, this one packs a punch.
The Cosmopolitan, with vodka, Cointreau and cranberry juice, was the simplest, strongest drink, with a citrus pucker. Each sip lingered on the lips and heated the palate; it was a fine after-dinner .
It’s worth a trip out west to enjoy this festive happy hour. The prices are a steal for the huge portions, and the food and drink sumptuous. After dinner, I walked outside right at sunset, to the good feel of live music and tiki torches warming the atmosphere.