5 Western essentials

It's different here. Let us show you a few reasons why.

Sunset's new essentials mai tai

Nina Choi

 Essential no. 1: The mai tai

Photographed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Honolulu

Beverly Hills 90210 is back. So is the mai tai, on the fall lineup at hot spots like Portland’s Teardrop Lounge. Both TV show and cocktail prove the enduring power of pop culture craftsmanship and savvy casting.

Invented in the ’40s by Oakland’s Vic Bergeron for his Trader Vic’s restaurants, the original mai tai featured only aged rum, lime juice, and orange liqueur, with a guest appearance by orgeat syrup.

“Bergeron just wanted to show off the rum,” says “King of Cocktails” Dale DeGroff, whose book The Essential Cocktail will be published next month. From that austere beginning, some mai tais have blossomed into fruity extravaganzas.

The one we like, featured at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Mai Tai Bar, is easier: It adds only orange juice and simple syrup to Vic’s original mix and is so redolent of the tropics, you’ll feel the trade winds even if drinking in Nome.

Mai tai DIY

Do you have a new western essential―a food, drink, place, or experience you can’t live without? Email us: newessentials@sunset.com


Sunset's new essentials taco truck

Jeff Minton

Essential no. 2: The taco truck

Photographed at York and 57th, Los Angeles

La Estrella. La Isla Bonita. Gaudily painted, grandly named, the taco truck combines two American passions: tricked-out wheels and good fast food. Taco trucks roll (and park) everywhere from Walla Walla to Denver. But their capital is greater Los Angeles, home to an estimated 14,000 trucks, the best of which are rated on fansites like the Great Taco Hunt.

When, earlier this year, L.A. County moved to restrict the vehicles, all infierno broke loose. “In L.A., taco trucks are where people meet up,” says Aaron Sonderleiter, who with his buddy Chris Rutherford started the popular saveourtacotrucks.org (its call to arms: “Carne Asada is not a Crime”).

Sonderleiter’s favorite entrée? Carnitas at La Estrella at York and Avenue 54 in Highland Park. (“Amazing red chile sauce.”)

Find a truck
For locations of Los Angeles taco trucks, visit the Great Taco Hunt . Visit californiatacotrucks.com/blog for more California trucks.

Do you have a new western essential―a food, drink, place, or experience you can’t live without? Email us: newessentials@sunset.com

Sunset's new essentials heath ceramics

Jeffery Cross

Essential no. 3: Heath Ceramics

The 1940s collectible makes a comeback

Who knew plates and bowls could inspire lust? But when Edith Heath shaped clay into tableware, she drew the eyes of connoisseurs like Frank Lloyd Wright and Alice Waters. Five years ago, husband-and-wife design duo Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey purchased Heath Ceramics (Edith Heath died in 2005) and revived it.

Working out of Sausalito, California―the company’s base since 1948―they’ve added new colors and one entire dinnerware line: the Waters-inspired Chez Panisse design. But they haven’t altered the pottery’s handmade essence. “Edith Heath didn’t do shapes of the moment,” Bailey says. “Her work was beautiful, functional, timeless.”

Set your Thanksgiving table with Heath dinner plates, and your guests may push aside the cranberry sauce just to glimpse the serene beauty beneath.

Set your table
The Heath factory store (400 Gate Five Rd., Sausalito, CA; 415/332-3732) is open to the public. Next month, a new Heath store will debut in Los Angeles; visit heathceramics.com for details and more retailers. 

Do you have a new essential―a food, drink, place, or experience you can’t live without? Email us: newessentials@sunset.com

Sunset's new essentials aurora borealis

Brown Cannon III

 New essential no. 4: The aurora borealis

The planet’s best light show is in Fairbanks, Alaska

The Sonoran hot dog

Alex Farnum

Essential No. 5: The Sonoran hot dog

Talk about tweaking the classics. The hot dog basics are here, starting with the beef frankfurter. But the bun is bigger, denser, swaddling the dog in a doughy embrace.

There’s bacon, and pinto beans and grilled onions, and a fireworks-burst of condiments: chopped fresh onions, chopped fresh tomatoes, jalapeño sauce, mayonnaise, mustard.Add a grilled yellow chile on the side and voilà, the Sonoran Hot Dog―aka the Mexican Hot Dog―which has risen to cult status in the Southwest.

It traces its ancestry to northern Mexico but attains perfection at joints like Tucson’s El Güero Canelo and Phoenix’s Nogales Hot Dogs.

“The idea makes you go, Oh my God,” says Pamela Hamilton, editor and publisher of Edible Phoenix. “But when I took visitors around Phoenix, at the end they begged me to FedEx them hot dogs in Cape Cod.”

Follow that dog In Tucson: El Güero Canelo, 5201 S. 12th Ave. ($; 520/295-9005) and 2480 N. Oracle Rd. ($; 520/882-8977). In Phoenix: Nogales Hot Dogs, 1945 E. Indian School Rd. ($; 602/527-0208).

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