5 Things to Love about Trader Vic’s

 Trader Vic's: Relevant then and now.

  • It’s time to rediscover Trader Vic’s.
    It’s time to rediscover Trader Vic’s.
  • Morel mushrooms were the surprise hit of the evening.
    Morel mushrooms were the surprise hit of the evening.
  • Kung Pao chicken packs the right amount of heat.
    Kung Pao chicken packs the right amount of heat.

“Want to have dinner at Trader Vic’s?” I asked my friend. 

“What year is it? 1968?” replied my curmudgeon buddy.

“Stop it. I promise it’ll be fun.”

Fun it was. Trader Vic’s, located at the Hilton Atlanta Hotel, may be a throwback to an earlier time, but what a great time it was and still is. While Trader Vic’s may seem a bit retro today, it was way ahead of its time. The first franchised restaurant in the United States, Trader Vic’s was started in 1934 by Vic “The Trader” Bergeron in Oakland, Calif., but found its spiritual home in Hawaii and Polynesia. In 1937 Bergeron became an expert on rum and began serving simmering plates of island-style cuisine. It was one of the country’s first fusion restaurant concepts.

But decor and great food needed more, and one day in 1944, Bergeron poured some Jamaican rum, added a squeeze of lime, a dash of rock candy syrup, orange Curaçao and French orgeat, and the Mai Tai was born. Also born was the great tradition of oversized drinks served in coconuts and bedazzled with umbrellas, flowers and fruit. Why doesn’t love that?

Here are five reasons why we love Trader Vic’s.

  • Really, really big drinks with umbrellas
    Trader Vic's is famous for its specialty drinks, like the Mai Tai, which is offered as a special for $6 every Thursday. But for fun with friends, try the group drinks, which are big enough for four persons to share. Consider the Rum Keg, a delightful concoction of pineapple, light and dark rums plus apricot and passion fruit flavors, or the Scorpion Bowl, which is a variety of rums, fruit juices and brandy with a “whisper of almond” served with a flower. Trader Vic's serves more than 70 cocktails. If you have trouble deciding, go local and ask for Atlanta’s Own Peachtree Punch, which is described as a “fish bowl of a drink” with light rum, flavor of peaches and oranges with coconuts. 
  • Morel mushrooms
    Trader Vic’s has a variety of outstanding appetizers starting with spring rolls, cha siu pork and coconut crusted crab cakes. We went with the calamari and the morel mushrooms. Made in a creamy Chardonnay sauce and served with toast points, the mushrooms anchor the dish with their heartiness. Honestly, it was the surprise hit of the evening.
  • Wood-fired oven
    There are lots of places that tout a wood-fired oven but Trade Vic’s Chinese wood-fired oven can be traced to the Han Dynasty (206 BC to AD 200). The heating source, natural smoke and heat, is derived from split oak or seasoned wood. As soon as you walk into Trade Vic’s there is a warm, sensual smell of the wood burning near the dining room and the crackling of the fire as the meat sizzles. The options are amazing whether it the certified Angus beef, surf and turf, salmon or Indonesian rack of lamb. 
  • The food
    Trader Vic’s, under the expert supervision of Cambodia native Cheing Phour, offers a delightful offering of Asian dishes along with the wood-fired oven cooking. We tried two of the traditional dishes -- volcano shrimp and kung pao chicken. The volcano shrimp was expertly spiced in a mild sauce while the kung pao chicken offered up the correct amount of heat to make the dish a stand-out.
  • The original
    You may not be able to afford a week in Hawaii or Polynesia, but Trader Vic’s is the best alternative in Atlanta. Why? Because it’s the original. It was one of the first in the world — and certainly Atlanta — to combine the island vibe with great food and drinks.

    It’s time to either rediscover Trader Vic’s or experience it for the first time. 

    Mary Welch is a veteran journalist who writes about travel, lifestyle and business. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Fulton County Daily Report and Family Vacation Critic.

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