People often ask where they can get the best Mai Tai. This list honors the standard menu option at these locations, without any custom rum switches or requests for tweaks. In other words, these are my top Mai Tais made without any rum or ingredient substitutions.
Note that for purposes of the “rating” on this list, its only about what’s in the glass and not about the rest of the bar visit experience. Not that any of these have poor ambiance, mind you.
The top 10 Mai Tais that you can have right now.
- Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29
- Dr. Funk
- Hale Pele
- The Kon-Tiki Oakland
- Maunakea Mai Tai at Skull & Crown Trading Co.
- Smuggler’s Cove
- San Francisco Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s Emeryville
- Sunken Harbor Club
List last updated: September 2023
Cream of the Crop
Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, Rumba, and Smuggler’s Cove topped our previous Top 5 list, and warrant special attention. While we no longer rank these, all three of these establishments have served the highest quality Mai Tais for many years, and continue to do so.
On any given day, one or the other of these three would most likely be the best.
Top 10 Mai Tais
Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, New Orleans
When I bumped into Jeff Berry at the Mai Tai Festival in 2019, he couldn’t contain his enthusiasm when I told him his Mai Tai topped our list. This is made with Rhum Clément VSOP or Rhum JM VO Martinique Rhum, Coruba dark Jamaican Rum, and a dash of a secret undisclosed rum, along with Berry’s signature Latitude 29 Formula Orgeat.
Dr. Funk, San Jose
Dr. Funk uses Denizen Merchant’s Reserve Rum and Smith & Cross Jamaica Rum as the base for their Mai Tai, combining it with house-made Orgeat. The team said they tried several different rum blends, including one featuring a Rhum Agricole, but found that a Jamaica blend was the best. We agree, though we liked the original Appleton 12 / Smith & Cross version even more. The heavier rums from Jamaica add flavor that truly punches through.
Hale Pele, Portland, OR
Besides being a world-class tiki bar, Hale Pele is also noteworthy for maybe having the best cocktail fire shows anywhere. Yet for us, the highlight of our visits is always their rich and sweet Mai Tai. Made with Coruba and Wray & Nephew Overproof rums from Jamaica, this shows you don’t need to use expensive rums in order to make a great Mai Tai.
The Kon-Tiki, Oakland
Perhaps no destination demonstrates the search for the ultimate Mai Tai better than The Kon-Tiki in Oakland. Their Mai Tai has always been good, but self-described constant R&D means their 2022 Mai Tai has leapfrogged into the top 10. This sweet and savory cocktail uses Super Jugoso Orgeat, rum-based orange shrubb, and a blend of rums from Guyana, Martinique, and Jamaica. The house Mai Tai is excellent (it is also where a customized version was the best we’ve ever had anywhere).
Known for having one of the largest rum collections in any bar, Rumba’s Mai Tai has a unique rum offering with their House barrel aged Wray & Nephew, along with Rhum JM Gold.
Maunakea Mai Tai at Skull & Crown Trading Co., Honolulu
Skull & Crown has three Mai Tais on their menu, but we prefer this traditional 1944 style Mai Tai made with Appleton 12, Clement Select Barrel, Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum, Dry Curacao, Lime, Orgeat, and Demerara Syrup. The three-rum blend works great alongside the fresh juice and sweeteners. Creamy and very flavorful.
Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco
The Mai Tai has been stellar at Smuggler’s Cove for years, except for a brief period in 2019 when they switched their Orange Curacao. Always good, usually great, the SC Mai Tai is made with Denizen Merchant’s Reserve rum and homemade orgeat and a custom rich simple syrup. Smuggler’s Cove took the top two spots in my Top Mai Tais of 2021.
Sunken Harbor Club, Brooklyn
Developed by famed bartender Garret Richard, this Mai Tai has garnered an impressive reputation and is a blend of three rums. There are a couple unusual adjustments to the preparation of this cocktail. Firstly, a few drops of saline solution are added to bring out the flavors of the ingredients. Next, a lime wedge is placed in the glass and combined with the the shaken cocktail. In addition to a gigantic bouquet of mint, a lime peel is expressed and then wrapped around the straw.
San Francisco Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s, Emeryville
The SF Mai Tai is a standard Vic’s Mai Tai with a float of 151 rum. I love the flavors of the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai, including the freshly squeezed lime on top, but the the 151 rum adds additional complexity and flavor to the cocktail, besides being extra boozy. So while I do enjoy the standard 1944 Mai Tai, the SF Mai Tai is now my go-to at the seminal Bay Area tiki bar.
The drinks at Undertow were all outstanding, including their Mai Tai with creamy orgeat. The spirits in this Mai Tai include Smith & Cross Rum, Rhum JM VSOP, and Cointreau Noir, a combination that we loved.