Scenic Restaurant Serves Up Strong Drinks That Impress This Rum Drink Veteran
I wanted a margarita.
Instead, I found a Mai Tai.
And whoa, what a Mai Tai!
I learned of Bali Hai on San Diego’s Shelter Island from a couple of local gents having a smoke outside a dive bar. I was looking for a place on the water – and had margaritas on the mind – and they told me of Bali Hai. Almost as an afterthought, as I departed (I was on foot) they shouted out “and they have great Mai Tais!”
Now if there’s one thing I know, it’s great Mai Tais. I’ve had the best ones at the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach (the original “Old School ones, not the new tourist versions), rum drinks from Luau Larry and even the Mai Tai from Frankie’s Tiki Bar in Las Vegas, while sitting with owner and tiki bar affectionado P. Moss.
“Well, I’ll be the judge about that,” I said to myself and set off for Bali Hai.
When I arrived – after a brief diversion to a wedding reception taking place downstairs before realizing being dressed in a t-shirt and shorts would crash any wedding crasher ideas – and found the lone seat at the bar, I noticed everyone else had drinks with a thick wedge of pineapple on the rim. This was promising.
So, too, was the fact the drinks were made in proper glasses, fairly short, wide and round. The bartender also filled it up with ice – crushed ice – and my anticipation for a good drink grew higher. He put a few bottles in his hand and poured them all simultaneously without measuring, This, too, was promising.
And the first sip….WHOA! Strong. Very strong. Push the drink back and look around at others strong. Pick up the phone and text fellow Mai Tai fans strong.
It was all rum at the top. I, even a seasoned party veteran, had to soak up the juice from the pineapple. I was struck with the thought that I would only be able to have one, something that was hard to fathom, especially considering just a few weeks earlier I had about half a dozen Fire Chiefs at Old Tony’s in Redondo Beach.
Then again, I was on a Bud Light pub crawl earlier in the day, so I did not exactly do this as my first drink of the evening. Still, with strong rum drinks it take a few sips before the rum numbs the tongue, and so it was with me after a few tiny sips.
About halfway through the drink, I got into my groove and finished it with such ease I ordered another.
So the Mai Tais at Bali Hai are indeed good. My only complaint about the place is the poor design of the bar. It’s big in size but 3/4 of its are taken up by bar glasses, so you have to squeeze into 10 seats. There are tables, but part of the pleasure of drinking strong Mai Tais is sharing your thoughts with people sitting near you. And you can pretty much only do that at a bar, not sort of isolated at a table.
If you want the full ocean view at Bali Hai, then you have to sit at one of the dinner tables. The windows are large and look out over the bay and the view is fantastic. That’s pretty appropriate for a good Mai Tai, as well.
The two drinks cost $17.17, which is a pretty good price. There’s a Happy Hour M-F from 3-6, which involves specials on pupus, ranging in price from $3 for Wasabi fries to $15 for Hawaiian Tuna Poke.
Bali Hai Restaurant
2230 Shelter Island Drive
San Diego, CA