Read the recap of our favorites of 2020, plus honorable mentions:
Compare to last year (oh, what a different year):
The Last Ultimate Mai Tai at The Kon-Tiki (Oakland, CA)
For the second year in a row, my best Mai Tai was at The Kon-Tiki. In early March, we said goodbye to bartender Terry Six as he left the bar to move to Southern California. For one last time I got have the Ultimate Mai Tai made by Terry. This was number one in 2019 when it was on the menu the night I completed the Kon-Tiki Rum Expedition, and was made the way that Terry knows I love it – thank you again.
Made with Appleton 12, Plantation Xaymaca, Plantation OFTD, and Smith & Cross rum – along with heavy orgeat – this was the best Mai Tai I’ve ever had.
Mrs. Mai Tai and I ran some errands and landed at Trader Vic’s for lunch. It was nearly outdoor dining as we enjoyed the view of the restaurant and lush greenery from our car.
Lunch was fab. I had the Kalua Pork Sandwich with fries and it tasted great. Even better was a bun that completely held everything together. Mrs. Mai Tai had the Volcano Shrimp bowl and once again really liked it. Though, we both really miss the Aloha Bowls. Please, Trader Vic’s, bring back the Aloha Bowls!
The cocktail was the San Francisco Mai Tai, the Mai Tai served with a float of dark and 151 rums. Though it’s all mixed together when served to-go, this Mai Tai had a deep and rich flavor no doubt influenced by those float rums. It was really great and made two full Mai Tais. I don’t know what it is about the Vic’s Mai Tais but they travel very well.
One of the few benefits this year has been the generally reduced freeway traffic, though today was much heavier than expected. Nonetheless, that light traffic has given us the opportunity to patronize Trader Vic’s many times during the various phases of quarantine, take-out, outdoor dining and everything in between. Today, the Trader Vic’s Captain Cook room was all set up for merchandise sales and there was plenty to choose from (I’ve bought plenty of merch this year, too). Thanks to the lovely day in Emeryville, it was a nice way to cap more than a dozen visits to Trader Vic’s this year.
Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s (Emeryville, CA)
Mai Tai Day in August was crazy in 2019 for the 75th anniversary of the Mai Tai, so 2020 was bound to be a smaller event. But even with COVID we were able to celebrate in the Trader Vic’s outdoor space with a special internet-based toast to Trader Vic and the Mai Tai. Mai Tais came packaged in custom Mason Jars, too.
I had a lot of Trader Vic’s Mai Tais in 2020, before and during COVID. But none tasted as good as this one that somehow was chilled and balanced to perfection.
Mai Tais at Gar Woods Grill and Pier (Carnelian Bay, CA)
Mrs. Mai Tai and I had a weekend away and ate lunch on Lake Tahoe on the sunny back patio at Gar Woods. This is one of the few places where you can get an officially licensed Trader Vic’s Mai Tai and the cocktails were fantastic. I tried the “Trader Vic’s Mai Tai” (made with Mai Tai Concentrate) as well as the scratch “1944 Mai Tai” and both tasted like they were made by the Trader.
With the calm lake waters lapping nearby along with fresh mountain air, this was the most relaxing Mai Tai of the year.
Mai Tai Smuggler’s Cove (San Francisco, CA)
In early February, I landed at the Cove due to unexpected circumstances and had a great Mai Tai along with an evening of rum tastings. On my previous visit in late 2019 I was disappointed that they changed their orange curaçao, so I was so pleased for the return to normalcy in 2020. Sadly, this was my last visit to the Cove pre-COVID.
Smuggler’s Cove includes Denizen Merchant’s Reserve rum and wonderful house-made Orgeat. It has been my go-to for Mai Tais in San Francisco for many years.
Buz-Tai at Hula Hoops (South San Francisco, CA)
Hula Hoops has a strong cocktail program, including this Mai Tai riff developed local tikiphile Buz Deadwax. The Buz-Tai has three kinds of rum and adds a little Allspice liqueur. It is a bold and brash Mai Tai riff, and this to-go cocktail traveled great and tasted wonderful.
Appleton 12 Mai Tai at Rum Sugar Lime (Reno, NV)
We were tipped that this was the place for great cocktails in Reno, so we had a short visit on a weekend getaway. The standard-issue Mai Tai from Rum Sugar Lime is very good, but I ordered a second one to-go. Everything was packaged nicely, including some fine crushed ice, and I prepared the cocktail in the hotel room. A truly outstanding Mai Tai made with Appleton 12 Jamaican rum, my favorite rum and go-to Mai Tai rum sub.
Coruba / Hamilton 86 Mai Tai at Fred & Ginger’s Exotic Cocktail Bar and Lounge (San Jose, CA)
My house Mai Tai blend is a mix of Jamaican and Demerara rums, so it’s no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed this blend of Coruba Jamaican rum and Hamilton Demerara rum while enjoying front-yard cocktail hour with our friends the Fritchs. Their home bar is amazing and while we didn’t step inside, Terra Fritch still made an incredible Mai Tai.