A Tastebud Getaway at Islands Restaurants - Fine Burgers & Drinks (and a Giveaway!)

This post and giveaway are sponsored by Islands Restaurants. However, I value the integrity of my work on this website so all opinions and experiences posted are my own and as truthful as possible.

[Giveaway details at the bottom of the post] I recall having fond memories of Islands restaurants in my high school and early college years. It was a place that one of my friends introduced me to at a spontaneous dinner. He was in town with his buddies and apparently Islands was one of their favorite restaurants to visit. I stopped by to meet them and appreciated the apt decor. It soon became a restaurant where we would eat often (so I'm guessing it really was a favorite) and I would find myself frequenting on other occasions. So when Islands Restaurants reached out about us giving them a try, I was not really hesitant. After all, it had been a few years since my last stop in, and I had enjoyed my previous visits. The restaurant seems to have grown to various locations since then but I opted for the spot where I had my first Islands experience - Huntington Beach. Before we get into my visit though, perhaps we should see where their fine burgers & drinks come from.

It's been more than 30 years since the first Islands restaurant opened. Founded in May of 1982, the restaurant was founded by Tony DeGrazier who was striving to recreate his experiences back in the early 1960s which consisted of satisfying meals of juicy burgers, hot fries, and cold drinks after a good surfing session. Those relaxing days spent on the beaches of Oahu with friends from the Navy post-hanging ten weren't quite the same again until he finally put together the first restaurant right in Southern California in West Los Angeles. Today, the restaurant has grown to more than 50 locations spanning several states - California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii - but still holds tightly to the original vision of providing "fresh food, friendly service, and a laid back atmosphere." We saw all of those things in our time at Islands and could easily see why DeGrazier wanted it to convey the feeling of
Ahh...this is the place I want to be.
To start our visit, we went for a cocktail and their passionfruit iced tea. The cocktail was a brilliant layered array of colors and called the Shipwreck ($7.85 - with Don Q Coco Rum, Midori, orange and pineapple juices, and grenadine). Slightly sweet but stronger on the coconut taste, it was well made and an appropriate sunny drink for such a bright day. Other cocktails we could have chosen from were all very tropical themed as well such as the Big Island Iced Tea, Sunset Margarita, Mai Tai, Lava Flow, and Pina Colada. Cocktails not your style? There were also beers on tap or you could choose from a variety of teas, sodas, juices, wines, and even shakes and smoothies. I rather liked my passionfruit iced tea actually because it came unsweetened whereas sometimes iced tea comes with sugar added.

There is quite a long Appetizers section, and I would think to attribute that to the restaurant's purpose as a fun hangout spot with friends. You don't normally see people eating at Islands alone; rather, they come as a large group of family members or buddies to share in some relaxing grub out.  We ended up picking three to share but there were more choices available: sliders, nachos, onion rings, chips and salsa, quesadilla, buffalo wings, spinach and artichoke dip, and fries. Don't be fooled - the basket of fries at 3.99 each are their signature Island Fries, described as "Golden like the sun & fresh like an ocean breeze, our Signature Island Fries are fresh cut with the skins left on and cooked to Islands perfection. The unique flavor comes from our own secret blend of spices. As an added bonus, they are cooked with zero grams of trans fat per serving." Wondering if they are special? We like them so much, we got the upgraded version!

I grabbed a bowl of their Tortilla Soup (4.19/7.79 - chicken and fresh vegetables topped with Jack cheese, avocado, and tortilla strips) which is their only soup option. You have the choice of getting a bowl or an endless bowl. What's an endless bowl? Well the soup will just keep on coming. I actually remember a few years ago on one of my visits, I had a craving for tortilla soup and came here to get the endless bowl. It was absolutely worth it. Mind you, this is a fairly thick soup chock-full of chicken and vegetables and is quite cheesy too. You may need to have some water nearby as it can get salty towards the end of your consumption.

The other appetizers we went for were the Tiki Tenders (8.95 - crisp chicken tenders served with ranch dressing, honey mustard, or BBQ sauce) and Cheddar Fries (7.69 - fresh cut Island Fries covered with melted Cheddar and scallions; add chili for additional 2.99). I always look for that "peel away" factor with chicken tenders where you pull two halves apart to see how juicy the meat is - Islands definitely had that going for it. As for the fries, well, I already mentioned that we really liked the potatoes but once you smother it with everything you probably really shouldn't have in one sitting, you end up with a gargantuan "Amerikuh"-sized plate that can easily be shared by four or more people. Not quite my style because it's a bit over the top but it was executed well and is perfect for a large group craving some savory indulgence.

Now we really cannot overlook the burgers which is where it all started! Their menu stated that all burger patties are grilled at a medium or above doneness so we couldn't opt for a medium rare patty. Then again, after the two burgers came out that we ordered, I realized that the other ingredients play a large role in the meal itself. You get the option of having the burgers on white or whole wheat buns and the side options are many: fresh cut Island fries, onion rings, garden salad, Caesar salad, steamed veggies, or sweet potato fries. After reading the many descriptions of which seemed to cover the base for all types of taste preferences from mushroom lovers to bacon fanatics to BBQ sauceheads to Bleu cheese aficionades (Bleunami anyone?) to even chili cheese junkies, we opted for one on their beef patty menu and one from their "Birds of Paradise" section which was a grilled chicken breast in lieu of a beef patty. You can also ask for turkey or veggie patties as well.

From the list of 12 beef burger types and 4 chicken options, we could not resist ordering the Kilauea (10.99 - jalapeno and black pepper-crusted burger with Pepperjack cheese, Island Reds, chipotle aioli, lettuce, and tomato) because of its glorious peppery description. In fact, after we chose it, our waiter and even the General Manager claimed it was their favorite. A side of onion rings finished off the entree and made sense since the burger's own Island Reds were crispy fried red onions. This burger was the right choice. Spicy but manageable with the meltiness of the cheese and the sandwiching buns, the Kilauea had the right zip to every bite without the pain that spicy burgers can have. The crusted patty charred well on the outside, giving the hint of smokiness to each bite, and who can deny the loveliness of a crunch of fried red onions? Thumbs up on the this one for sure!

For the "Birds of Paradise" section, we tried out the Toucan (10.49 - teriyaki sauce, fresh pineapple, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise) which is most definitely for the teriyaki lover. Slathered in sauce, the chicken breast was juicy on its own but made even more so by the external help. To be honest, it was absolutely too sweet for either of us but it makes great sense for those with a hankering for sweetness in their main meal.

Big burgers not appealing to you? Though Islands was built on burgers, those are certainly not the only options. We went for a few of their healthier choices as well to get a good lay of the land. If you are looking for some Californian-Asian influences, try the Beach Bowl (9.75 with chicken, 12.49 with mahi mahi - contained fresh grilled pineapple, red bell peppers, snow peas, water chestnuts, red onions, broccoli, and diced scallions with hoisin sauce over brown rice) which is stir-fried with just the right amount of sauce and not overwhelmingly sweet like the Toucan burger was. I liked that this brought a focus to brown rice and the beauty of crisp vegetables. We had ours with chicken which held up well alongside the vegetables which were honestly the main star of the show - crunchy and fresh, these were delicious.

There is also a whole section dedicated to tacos so the Mahi Mahi Island Tacos (12.05 - two corn tortillas stuffed with seasoned and grilled mahi mahi, cabbage, cilantro, chipotle-white sauce, and diced tomatoes; served with pico de gallo and ranchero beans) had to be had but other options included Northshore, Yaki, Island Fish, and Baja styles. Guacamole is an additional 1.85 and sour cream .65 for any of these platters. It was hard to snap a shot of these tacos since the mahi mahi seemed buried under the cabbage but after a bite, we realized it was just the color that was deceiving. The tacos were abundant in fish! They did not skimp out on this one bit but even so, the flavors were a little lost. Perhaps the mahi mahi could be seasoned more.

Don't fret if you're worried about a burger place not having substantial salads. They certainly have entree-sized ones to choose from. We tried the Kaanapali Kobb (9.99 - grilled and chilled chicken breast, crumbled applewood smoked bacon, fresh avocado, Bleu cheese crumbles, chopped hard cooked egg, tomatoes, scallions and lettuce tossed with a creamy vinaigrette) which was hearty enough to be a meal in itself. Everything was chopped nearly uniformly too, making for easy eating. There were some areas that seemed too heavy on the dressing but a quick stir fixed that up quickly. Opt for this one if you want a salad with several different flavor profiles as there is savoriness from the chicken, smokiness from the bacon, smoothness from the avocado, and crunchiness from the lettuce. The sections we did not try that visit include the "Paradise's Bikini Beach" section which had items containing fewer than 680 calories and the "Surfer Favorites" section consisting of sandwiches and wraps.

I did not leave out dessert! There was a meager selection but let's be honest here, after all of the portions and availability of so many appetizers, would you have room for dessert? I liked the simplicity of what we could choose from. There was an ice cream sundae, fudge brownie, chocolate lava (fudge brownie topped with ice cream), and the infamous Kona Pie (6.15 - noted to be perfect for sharing! contained mocha almond fudge ice cream with a cookie crust topped with chocolate fudge, whipped cream, roasted almonds, and a cherry). As you can see, the Kona pie was selected and can be artistically daunting once it comes out. Since the pie body is mainly ice cream, don't worry about that part being too sweet - just worry about all of that fudge! Chocolate and nuts really do go well together so this is a good pair. Unfortunately, if you are not a chocolate fan, stay away from the dessert menu and maybe opt for one of their fruit/tropical smoothies for a cold end to the meal instead.

Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.

Islands on Urbanspoon

The (BIG) Islands Giveaway!

So now that you've shared in this long journey reading and seeing everything we ate, here's a chance for you to join in on the fun. Islands has given a set of prizes for all Much Ado About Fooding readers to potentially win! We'll be running this giveaway for a week's time and hope to see all of you entered. If you win, remember to celebrate with friends.

  • Grand Prize: $100 gift card redeemable at any of Islands' 50 restaurants
  • Second Place: Islands beach towel and Islands grill set (includes spatula, tongs, grill fork, and skewers)
  • Third Place: Islands beach towel

Enter through the Rafflecopter widget for your chance to win! The giveaway will run until 4/8/14 at 11:59pm PST. Winners will be contacted upon selection and have 48 hours to respond before replacement winners are drawn. All U.S. citizens 18 and older are eligible to win. Though there are several entry methods, winners are not eligible to claim more than one prize. Prize fulfillment will be conducted by Islands Restaurants.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post and giveaway are sponsored by Islands Restaurants. However, I value the integrity of my work on this website so all opinions and experiences posted are my own and as truthful as possible.