Banana Island: Malaysian food for Oklahoma City
Please note: since this review was published, Banana Island has changed locations. Therefore, there may be some information in this review or in the comments that no longer applies.
I am not really sure what I expected from Banana Island upon my first visit. I guess I had it in my mind that it was Caribbean food, though I have no idea how I came to that perception. But I discovered that Banana Island is actually a Malaysian and Thai food restaurant. It isn’t much on the eyes from the outside (or the inside, really), but it is worth a stop for some unique food that is presented in such a beautiful display I didn’t want to eat it.
Seven of us ventured to Banana Island, all for the first time, on a recent Friday night, and were not very surprised to see the place mostly empty. Oddly, as the evening went on, the restaurant got more full (say around 9:30 p.m. or so), so maybe this is a place better for a late dinner. It is, in fact, one of the few Oklahoma City restaurants with late night hours (till midnight most days and 1am on Fridays and Saturdays). Regardless, we were seated quickly and we ordered Asian beers all around. Note: Banana Island is beer and wine only, so don’t go expecting any tropical alcoholic drinks (though they did have several smoothies on the menu).
I, like many people, have a fear of looking like a stupid American in authentic ethnic restaurants. I think this fear keeps many of us from branching out and trying new places, which is a shame. So, let me just say that, despite a heavy language barrier, the waitresses at Banana Island were very patient and helpful, and we all got our food ordered with no problem. If I can do it, you can too, so don’t let your fear of language barriers keep you from trying some of the flavorful, authentic restaurants around town.
Our table started out with the Indian pancake with beef ($4.75) appetizers and plates of satay chicken ($5.95). The consensus was that the chicken was a little dry, but that the beef pancakes were fantastic — perfectly crisp on the outside and cut into little triangles for easy sharing. This was a unique dish I had never had before and would definitely have again.
We were all also automatically served a cup of soup, similar to miso soup you find at many Asian restaurants. It had a nice flavor and was a good size in that it didn’t fill me up before my meal.
There were six different main dishes ordered at our table, and only one was not enjoyed. I had the Pineapple Fried Rice ($7.95 – see a pic) which was served beautifully in a hollowed out pineapple. There was plenty of meat and shrimp and enough food for two meals. My husband similarly went with the Mango Chicken ($12.95 – see a pic) and his food was served in a hollowed out mango. The presentation was spectacular. Not many restaurants put much thought into how the food looks on the plate, and I can appreciate that Banana Island obviously cares about taste and image.
The chicken fried rice ($5.95 – see a pic) was tasty, though was just served as a mound of rice. No hollowed out chickens here. Like mine, another friend’s Pineapple Jumbo Shrimp ($16.95 – see a pic) came with the presentation and had good flavor.
The lone disappointment in the meal was the Stir-Fried Flat Noodles, which were greasy, not all that flavorful, and had no presentation to save the dish. But overall, the table seemed happy with the food and everyone was already talking about what they would try next time. The menu is very extensive, and it looks to be a little cheaper at lunch if you want to try it out on a whim.
We wrapped up the meal with a dessert soup that was brought out without us ordering it. I love food that is just part of the experience and comes without asking, though the flavors in this example were a little hard to place. It tasted like a blueberry tapioca pudding soup that was slightly sweet and had an interesting texture. I am always up for trying new things, but it was not my personal favorite, while others at the table ate every drop. To each their own.
I think the exterior and interior at Banana Island are lacking in appeal, which likely hinders the crowd levels even on Friday nights. But, the food is unique, flavorful and beautifully presented with care. The waitresses are attentive and polite and don’t let the language barrier become an issue (even as we split up seven checks). I would easily return to Banana Island and hope you’ll take the time to try it as well. Have you been already? Let us know what you think in the comments.
See more pictures from Banana Island in our Facebook Photo album.