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Mai Tais, tiki gods and shows make Mai-Kai the place to go in Ft. Lauderdale

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Polynesian music fills the air. Waitresses wearing bra tops bounce around a room filled with torches and wooden tiki gods. It’s steamy hot and packed with happy hour tipplers who come for the free buffet offered on Wednesdays when you spend $10 on drinks (which are half-price in the late afternoon). It’s Mai-Kai, Fort Lauderdale’s iconic faux Polynesian paradise and it’s a must-do for anyone visiting this Florida resort city.

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Opened in 1956 by two brothers who shelled out $300,000 to build the place (the most expensive eatery ever built in the area then), the restaurant was a childhood favorite of mine and my parents. So it was the perfect place to spend a birthday last March with my husband and our friend Chris (who treated).

We went to happy hour, which operates from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and downed tropical drinks before digging into the complimentary buffet of South Pacific-style appetizers from pot stickers to egg rolls, Polynesian chicken and more. Buffet offerings are tasty but the best food is served from the full menu. Be sure to begin with pupus (appetizers) and order lots of entrees to share such as Teriyaki chicken, Thai red curry chicken, Spicy beef, Panang curry shrimp, lobster Bora Bora or any of a dozen other choices that are all good.

There’s a Polynesia show that isn’t to be missed that interprets island life. Every room reflects a different village and theme and is filled with locals and visitors who flock here by the droves.

Located a bit off the beaten track at 3599 North Federal Hwy., but worth the drive, reservations are must and can be made through or by calling (954) 563-3272.