Who doesn't remember their first margarita? Okay, probably a lot of people. Probably the same people who spent the better part of their early drinking career counting Jose Cuervo among their best friends. Blended or on the rocks, salt or no salt, classic or all fruited up - hell, even those supermarket, pre-mixed, open and pour margaritas have put a drunken smile on your face in a pinch. Bonus points for blasting Margaritaville while drinking one poolside on a hot, sunny afternoon.
Here in California, the margarita is synonymous with summer - probably thanks in large part to Cinco de Mayo. Otherwise known as Cinco de Drinko, it is one of our annual drinking holidays referred to under the collective term of endearment as "amateur night." But if your days of slurping one-and-done fishbowls and slamming Patron shots are behind you, if exotic, refined flavor profiles and sophisticated debauchery are more your boozy persuasion, then you, my friend, are no amateur.
Pay stylish homage to Cinco de Mayo with these five unique takes on the classic margarita. Giant sombrero optional.
5. Smokey Passion Fruit at Tortilla Republic
With its menu of modernized Mexican favorites, tequila flights and extensive cocktail roster, it's no surprise that Tortilla Republic is a neighborhood favorite. Here you can have your blanco, reposado or anejo any way you like it. Purists can order it straight up, but we recommend combining your tequila with fresh ingredients in one of the house cocktails. The Smokey Passion Fruit concoction is like a sexy margarita/tequila sunrise hybrid with El Silencio mezcal adding its telltale smoke to deepen the sweet, tropical mix of Karma Silver tequila, passion fruit puree, fresh agave, pineapple juice and triple sec. 616 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 657-9888.
4. New Fashioned at Yxta Cocina Mexicana
If Don Draper ran away to Mexico with a girl named Margarita, this is what he would drink. Technically not a true margarita, the New Fashioned at downtown's Yxta is, well, a new Old Fashioned. This Mad Men-era cocktail with margarita leanings trades whiskey for your choice of reposado tequila or mezcal, which is mixed with cane syrup and Mexican bitters. Expect a strong, sweet taste without the hallmark tartness and jangling ice cubes. Order it with mezcal for added complexity, but maybe leave the skinny tie at home. 601 S. Central Ave., Downtown L.A.; (213) 596-5579.
3. El Bueno, El Malo, El Feo at Red O
In addition to their daily range of creative tequila cocktails, such as La Paloma (Cabo Wabo Silver tequila, grapefruit reduction, rosemary, fresh lime, hint of blood orange) and La Dama (Karma Silver, serrano chile, mango grenadine, pomegranate liquor, lime), Rick Bayless' cooler-than-thou spot will offer a selection of cocktails in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. The colors of the Mexican flag will be represented in a series of cocktails dubbed The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (El Bueno, El Malo, El Feo). The Good (white) cocktail features tequila, coconut, lemon and orange liqueur; The Bad (red) cocktail combines tequila with hibiscus, limonada and orange liqueur; and The Ugly (green) cocktail includes tequila, cucumber, epazote, fresh lime and simple syrup. Down one of each and you'll see the good, bad and ugly of yourself by night's end. 8155 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 655-5009.
2. Tamarindo at East Borough
Something of a jet-set fruit, tamarind is enjoyed in a variety of ways in countries around the world. Most Angelenos have seen it in the form of Mexican soda or agua fresca, but it also commonly stars in the sweetened, iced Vietnamese beverage nuoc da me. At East Borough in Culver City, you'll find a happy marriage of the two cultures in their popular Tamarindo cocktail. A riff on the classic margarita recipe, the refreshing drink gets its mellow tang from fresh tamarind juice which is combined with reposado tequila and lime, rimmed with Sriracha salt and served with a frothy foam on top. For the restaurant's Chino de Mayo celebration, bar manager Jordan Tromblee and guest mixologist Johan Stein will be serving the cocktail with a Tapatio salt rim, in addition to a few other mezcal-habañero drink specials. You can also balance your buzz with some one-night-only bites prepared by chef Chloe Tran in collaboration with Jesse Fruman of Free Range LA. 9810 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; (310) 596-8266.
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1. The Nacho at Bar Ama
If you haven't been keeping up with the latest mixology lingo, a shrub isn't just a landscaper's domain. In the case of cocktails, a shrub is a colonial-era invention of sweetened vinegar syrup often infused with fruit juice, herbs and spices. In downtown L.A., Josef Centeno has cornered the market on shrub cocktails, where they anchor the bar programs at both Bäco Mercat and Bar Ama, his Tex-Mex outpost across the steet. Ama's perfectly calibrated The Nacho combines tequila blanco with a chile-lime shrub, Campari, citrus and honey, Intricate and spicy, the sweet and sour chile-lime shrub is sharpened by the Campari, while the lingering note of honey helps balance the heat and bitterness. 118 W. 4th St., Downtown L.A.; (213) 687-8002