A Vegan Adventure at ‘Ohana

by Kitty Smith

I just returned from a most wonderful Walt Disney World vacation. As a vegan, there were some challenges with meals, but one meal was so amazingly outstanding that it deserves a whole report by itself. On Thursday December 10th, I had the best meal of my life – a seven course vegan feast at ‘Ohana.

Other vegetarians and vegans might wonder why I’d even attempt a meal at an establishment known for its meat-fest, but I had heard that Chef TJ (Tjetjep Sudiswa) was now working there – and anywhere he’s cooking, I’ll be eating. His name alone would have brought me here, but I had also heard that he was making a special effort here to treat vegans to something truly special. Even knowing that, nothing could have prepared me for the meal I was about to enjoy.

We were seated at a table near the window, with an awesome view of the Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom. Our meal was too early for the fireworks, but I can only imagine how cool it must be to watch them from here. The view was gorgeous! Shortly after we were seated, Chef TJ came to greet me, and after a couple of food-specific questions, he asked me if I was ready for my adventure. And boy was I ever! I had come hungry, and excited, with camera and notebook in hand.

To get me started, Chef TJ brought out a nice large plate of fried Pita chips, with a nice large scoop of red pepper hummus, and Baba Ghanoush. If I didn’t know more food was coming, I could have easily eaten this whole plate! It was so good!


Pita Chips with Red Pepper Hummus and Baba Ghanoush

Next came the salad course. Since Chef TJ doesn’t do anything simple, this was not your average salad. This one was wrapped in a sesame rice “paper”, and served in a wine glass. It was designed to be eaten with your hands, as Chef TJ insisted I do – very unique, and very tasty. I’m not sure of the dressing he used (some sort of vinaigrette, light and full of flavor), but it was wonderful! The only problem, if you can call it that, is that the dressing tended to fall to the bottom, which only meant that each bite was better than the last.


Mixed Greens in Sesame Rice Paper

At this point, Chef TJ (who continually checked to make sure I was happy and that all was well) pointed out that the noodles and broccoli served with the regular meal were also vegan. I tried just enough to tell you that they were also quite delicious. I probably could have made a small meal from that alone, but Chef TJ wasn’t about to let me settle! (I’m calling this a seven-course meal, but truly it would have been eight or nine, with the noodles and broccoli.)


Lo Mein Noodles Tossed in Teriyaki Sauce with Fresh Vegetables, and Seasoned Broccoli

Next course, soup. This was quite unusual – a ginger-based broth, with crushed red pepper, watercress and peanuts. The red pepper definitely gave it some kick, and veggies and peanuts made it quite filling. I must confess that, while very tasty, only ate about half of it. This was already one of the largest meals I’d ever had, and I hadn’t even got to the entrée yet.


Ginger Soup with Crushed Red Pepper, Watercress and Peanuts

Ahhh… entrée at last, or so I thought! This next dish was actually my favorite. I believe that Chef TJ called it Tofu chips with Swiss chard. Somehow, he had managed to cut the tofu into small, very thin slices and fried it, giving it the most wonderful chewy texture. Oh what I wouldn’t give to be able to do that to tofu! The Swiss chard was the perfect accompaniment. He also included two sauces – one a bit spicy, the other a bit sweet. However, the tofu was so deliciously marinated already that I found the sauces a bit over-kill. I just can’t rave enough about this dish! It was heavenly!


Fried Tofu Chips with Swiss Chard

Just as I’m thinking I can now die happy, Chef TJ comes out with yet another appetizer. You mean I haven’t gotten to the main course yet?! This one was a wonderfully prepared Bok Choy with mushrooms, some ginger, perhaps some red pepper? It had a little heat. There were also what seemed to be tiny little fried potatoes – like itty-bitty French fries. I like bok choy and was not disappointed with this dish.


Bok Choy Appetizer

Finally, Chef TJ arrives with the entrée – a selection of mixed veggies, tofu, a scoop of white rice, some tempura broccoli and cauliflower, topped with rice straws. He told me that the tempura was coated with just flour, baking soda and Hawaiian beer. Whatever it was, it worked! The whole dish had tons of flavor (most of which I sadly can’t identify). It was just the right level of “spicy”. Really, it was a wonderful dish and my only disappointment was that I was already too full to fully appreciate it. (For the record, even my non-vegan hubby pronounced it quite tasty. And the woman at the next table was so impressed that she asked if she could take a picture – to share with a vegetarian friend who had declined the invitation.)


Tofu and Mixed Vegetables, with Rice, Tempura Broccoli and Cauliflower

I have no idea how I managed, but since dessert is such a rare treat for a vegan, I did actually manage to tackle the last dish. I’m sure my description won’t do it justice, but I believe Chef TJ described it as “Pina colada, with lychees and mint, and a surprise in the middle”. The surprise actually turned out to be chocolate Tofutti. There were also bits of banana and some raspberries. It was quite a medley of flavor, but oh so delicious! It was the perfect ending to the most amazing meal I’ve ever had.


Pina Colada with Lychees and Mint and Chocolate Surprise Center

In short, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan who’s been afraid to try ‘Ohana, I suggest you reconsider – and tell Chef TJ his biggest fan says “hi”!

AllEars Note: Every experience at Walt Disney World with special dining is different. Each chef does what they can given the ingredients and time they have at any given time. Please do not go to Ohana expecting this will be your meal if you are vegan.

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Debra Martin Koma wrote about food, travel and lifestyle issues for a number of local and national publications before she fell in love with Walt Disney World on her first visit — when she was 34! She's returned to her Laughing Place more times than she can count in the ensuing years, and enthusiastically shares her passion with readers of AllEars.Net and AllEars®. Deb also co-authored (along with Deb Wills) PassPorter's Open Mouse for Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line, a travel guide designed for all travelers to Walt Disney World who may require special attention, from special diets to mobility issues.

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27 Replies to “A Vegan Adventure at ‘Ohana”

  1. I had a wonderful Chef TJ meal last week — much fancier than the meal my family had (although they enjoyed their meal as well).

    When I called Disney Dining to verify my reservation said “vegan” (you can check reservations on-line, but that check doesn’t specify any dietary information) the representative said “It says one vegan meal, but I’ll put that in another field to make sure the see it”.

    It worked — when I checked in I was told “the chef will visit your table”. Chef TJ came, and came wandering over every few minutes with another delight.

    When they passed out leis I acquired one and gave it to Chef TJ.

  2. I’m another one of those vegans that was completely disappointed by my experience at ‘Ohana. After reading so many spectacular things about Chef TJ, I filled out the special dietary requests paperwork and handed it back in 3 months in advance.
    I then talked to the hostess upon check in, and told her that I had filled out the paperwork (and the woman assured me that she contacted all the restaurants) and she just stared at me as though I was crazy.
    Needless to say, we didn’t get Chef TJ food (though I booked it on a night that I had heard he was working) and we left very disappointed (and hungry, since we didn’t like the food we were given).

  3. Kitty,

    what a great meal! It looks very similar (though not identical) to the meal chef TJ served my girlfriend Emily and I back in August. After helping us so much with your advice in planning for the trip I am really glad to see your experience at ‘Ohana was as good as ours 🙂


  4. Thank you to everyone who left a comment! It’s so nice to hear that others enjoyed my post. Just to repeat what others have said: there is no guarantee that a meal at ‘Ohana will match what I shared here. However, I can’t stress enough that it’s important to speak up at Disney if you have special dietary needs. You certainly won’t lose anything by nicely explaining your situation, and your odds of experiencing something truly special rise dramatically. Good luck, and let me know if you experience any Disney veggie dining magic!

  5. (In response to Erica 1/24):

    I did attempt to contact Chef TJ before the meal, but did not have much luck. In the end, I simply asked if he was working, when we first checked in for our meal, and was assured that he was. When our server first seated us, I asked specifically for Chef TJ, and he came right to the table.

    There are no guarantees, but my best suggestion would be to actually visit the restaurant (after 5pm) sometime before your meal, and ask if he will be working. In my experience, nothing is as effective as a visit to the actual restaurant a day or more before your scheduled meal. (And that goes for any Disney restaurant.)

  6. (In response to Julie, 1/18):

    I wish I had a better answer, but unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine in advance if Chef TJ will be working on any given night. Your best bet is to speak directly with someone at the restaurant, but it’s not a guarantee. (If you send me an e-mail, I may be able to give you some suggestions.)

  7. I first met Chef TJ a few years ago when he was at Boma at the Animal Kingdome Lodge. When he moved to Ohana, I followed. He over-fed me there last month and as much as I tried, I couldn’t eat everything!! Beforehand, I DID note that I was a vegan when I made my ressies, and then I called Ohana a few days before to ensure Chef TJ would be there that day. I had to leave a message but my call was returned very promptly and I was assured he would be there!! He is a very sweet and conscientious man and Disney (and all who enjoy his creations) are very fortunate!!

  8. That meal looks excellent. Did you call ahead or did you just talk to someone when you got there? And if you called did you call ‘Ohana directly? I am a vegetarian, and my husband doesn’t eat any pork or shellfish, so I have been hesitant to go to ‘Ohana. You definitely have me rethinking this.

  9. We visited Ohana back in August of 2009. My step-son is also a vegan. He had the most tremendous meal there! The chef out did himself.

  10. I just want to second what a previous poster said. We have dined at Ohana’s with and without Chef TJ and the experiences were completely different….:(

    Our daughter is a vegatarian and he come out and talked to her and came back with a masterpiece which she loved.The next two times we have gone, Chef TJ wasn’t in and she was served the standard veg plate, which she isn’t crazy about.

    Our last time there the chef covering for him came out,a very nice women,and she said she just can’t duplicate what Chef TJ does and people come in and expect it and unfortunately leave very disappointed.

    She went into the kitchen and made my daughter another dish but my daughter really didn’t like it either. I will admit she is very picky but ate about a third of it out of politeness, she knew the chef would come back and ask how it was.

    Soooo….just a head up to everyone. Please don’t go to Ohana’s expecting the pictures above. It just doesn’t occur nightly…:(

  11. Excellent column and excellent comments. Everything said about Chef TJ is so true and plus he is one of the nicest, warmest, and enthusiastic people you will ever meet. He is truly a master at tofu as mentioned above. We have had the TJ treatment at Boma and when we went back one time and found he had left we were so sad. We could not get a reservation at Ohana that time and so have not made it there. Our daughter is a vegan and we are vegetarians. She still raves about the fried Oreos. Every time he showed us an adventure and really doted on our daughter. I need to mention that Allison at Boma is also very nice and accommodating to us vegetarians.

    I would also like to reinforce the point that you just need to tell the chef at most places your dietary needs and most times they will make sure you are accommodated but it is not a guarantee. It is easier for them if you can let them know ahead of time but the buffets I mention above have plenty of veggie goodies to make it worthwhile. Good vegetarian places are Boma, Tusker House, Crystal Palace, and Columbia Harbor to mention a few. Oh and California Grille can do anything too. One major disappointment is the change from Boca veggie burgers to the Malibu Gardenburger at all Disney properties. Really cut down on the choices. Used to love Cosmic Rays at DW and Taste Pilots at DL. Can’t eat those now due to their yukkieness. Thank you again for this column.

  12. ‘Ohana is my favourite restaurant in the World (and not just Walt Disney World) and was the obvious choice for my 40th birthday celebration in November. I’m a happy carnivore, but these photos and descriptions blew me away…..and left me wanting to try it all even though I’d *never* thought I’d say that about Tofu!! Good work to the ‘Ohana gang!!!

  13. Wish I had seen this before I stayed at the Polynesian for work last fall!

    for vegetarians who don’t already know – always mention you are a vegetarian. the chefs are very accommodating. Even moreso if you can call 24 hrs ahead…

  14. Kitty,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience – it sounds like a wonderful, memorable meal! I’ve never been to ‘Ohana because I assumed that I’d get some boring plate of rice and veggies, so I will definitely have to try it sometime (and ask for Chef TJ).

  15. OMG….can’t wait! I have been avoiding booking Ohana’s over the past couple of years. It is my son and husbands favorite, but nothing for my daughter and I. I am putting in back on our schedule for Feb 2010!

  16. Kitty,

    I am so delighted to read this review, and I now wish I’d gone to Ohana on my last trip! I have experienced Chef TJ one time, at Boma, many years ago. The experience was truly incredible. The *only* dining experience I have ever had to surpass that, at WDW or anywhere, was Victoria and Albert’s. TJ defies description, he is a true artist. You know how you go to WDW for the unique, wonderful attractions? Well, TJ is an attraction in and of himself, a true WDW treasure.

    I have been to Ohana before, without TJ there, and I still ate very well, so vegetarians should not be afraid to try Ohana (or any other place) regardless of the chef. I’ve never been anywhere at WDW where they didn’t make a good, solid (and usually very tasty) effort. I never manage to lose weight or miss meals at WDW, much less go hungry!!

    A.D. Johnson
    -Littleton, CO

  17. Back in September I dined at ‘Ohana with my mom… a non-vegetarian. I had heard that Chef TJ was at ‘Ohana but left so I didn’t bother mentioning I was vegetarian. The waitress noticed that I wasn’t eating any of the meat options and she asked if I was a vegetarian. I said ‘yes, but don’t bother bringing anything else out.. i’m fine. Really.’ Well, she insisted on grabbing the chef for me.

    In 5 minutes out came… Chef TJ! I swear tears almost filled my eyes because I was SO excited. I’d heard about his masterpieces and have always wanted to try his creations. I told him how happy I was to finally meet him… totally flattered a chef for the first time in my life. haha!

    He was beyond amazing. He told me that he was going to cook me this amazing entree. In just a short bit, he came out with the amazing tofu noodle veggie dish displayed in the article. Seriously… so so so good! He came back out personally to check on me so I took that opportunity to take a picture with my hero.

    We got dessert and we were waiting for our bill when Chef TJ came out and said “dessert already? Oh no, wait here. I’ll be right back.”

    Ten minutes later he brought out ANOTHER dessert he made just for us. He was so interested in our opinion he came back out to see how we liked it. Something was fried (can’t remember what) then smothered in chocolate and raspberry sauce. To die for! Chef TJ said that the next time we dined there that I ask to speak with him. No doubt I will be doing that from now on… 🙂

  18. The photos alone made me hungry! It can be challenging being a vegetarian in WDW, but it seems to be getting easier with wonderful people like Chef TJ. I have not had the pleasure of enjoying his cooking yet, but your review made me want to made a reservation at ‘Ohana the next chance I get. Do you know how I can find out if he will be working the night I make a reservation?

    Thanks for your review!

  19. Wow. When we go to WDW, I never bother telling the servers that I’m a vegetarian, I just eat the veggies and side dishes. I think I should start mentioning it!

  20. Oh Kitty, I’m so glad you reported on this! Back in September my family and I dined at Ohana and the Chef was kind enough to come out to our table and discuss my diet with him. He made me the most wonderful and memorable vegetarian dishes! I cannot tell you enough how wonderful the entire experience was! Then in December we went back and was hoping for something similar, but the Chef on that night never came out and made me the most lackluster boring meal. I was very disappointed. This will not keep us from trying it again, though. I think sometimes it just depends on what Chef’s are working that evening.

    Thank you so much!
    Melody P.

  21. I am allergic to cinnamon. When we ate at O’hana on our last trip, Chef TJ made all of my entrees seperate and special. Each course he brought to the table with a flourish and great presentation. It seems that most of the dishes severed at O’hana either have or are in contact with cinnamon. The attention and jealousy of everyone in the dining room was amazing. I do agree that you might not get the same meal on a busy evening. You should also be certain to fill out the form on line in advance of your special food needs. The kitchen needs to be aware that you are coming so that they have on hand what ever is necessary to prepare what you need for your meal. Thank you Chef TJ!

  22. Chef TJ served my gluten & dairy free children the most amazing meal during our November trip. He truly is amazing and a wonderful asset to Ohana:)

  23. Awesome! I’m definately not a Vegan but this review got me very excited about the vegan dishes. They look so delicious. I already love ‘Ohana and now I can’t wait to go back.

  24. Just to confirm the ending note, even if Chef TJ is working when a vegetarian/vegan is eating there it may NOT be an amazing multi-course masterpieces that is served. We ate there in October, my bf is vegetarian and we’d had an excellent experience with Chef TJ when he worked at Boma (he made my bf a huge vegetarian stirfry ‘tower’ and a bowl of deepfried oreos!) and, again, i’d mentioned that the bf was vegetarian when making the ADR at Ohana. He was served the standard vegetarian option which was very nice but not nearly as awesome as this. I know there are no guarantees but when you read previous reviews you can’t help but get your hopes up.

  25. Thank you so much for this much needed review and pictures, my mouth is watering and it’s only 10am.

    I have never been to Ohana mostly due to the all meat menu. I love the Polynesian and to be able to enjoy a meal at this restaurant will be a welcome pleasure. I am set to arrive at WDW next week and am already thinking which DDR I need to cancel in order to enjoy this new Vegan meal. I’ve even sent the link to my husband so he can see for himself, I’m sure he won’t believe me.

    Thanks again and keep up the great blogging!!

  26. Wow!! I’ve always wanted to eat at ‘Ohana for the atmosphere and scenery, but being a vegetarian (who leans toward the vegan end of the spectrum), I figured I would just be eating side dishes all night. This meal looks phenomenal! Thank you so much for sharing — even though I wouldn’t get my hopes up to be served this grand of a meal, I still hope Chef TJ is still in house on my next trip! Thank you also for maintaining the vegetarian dining pages, they are an excellent resource. I was very happy to see Divvies in the Contempo Cafe in December.