Las margaritas del verano

Stumbling through Chico in search of the perfect margarita

Photo By Tom Angel

We apparently have Margarita Sames to thank for inventing the cocktail that bears her name.

The story of the Dallas socialite who in 1948 created the concoction at her vacation home in Acapulco seems to be the most popular historical notation associated with the drink. Sames’ version, made with three parts tequila and one part Cointreau, was a hit among her guests and would soon become popular among Hollywood’s elite in the 1950s.

Whatever its origins, this easy-to-drink cocktail with the powerful punch remains hugely popular. Personally, the margarita ranks right up there with ice-cold tall boys of Bud and frosty bottles of Pacifico with lime as one of my go-to beverages of summer.

CN&R columnist Local Bastard (he writes the “Noise” feature in the Calendar section) jumped at the opportunity to take on the tough assignment of rating the illustrious beverage with me. That particular Friday evening was hot and muggy, so some cold margaritas were definitely in order. We hit the pavement in search of “the one.”

The rules were simple—choose five of our favorite watering holes and rank their margaritas. I was in charge of reviewing the traditional hand-shaken margarita, using the same brand of tequila each time, while my comrade went the way of the foo-foo variety where possible. There were no set criteria—simply sip, swish and assess.

We started with a logical choice, Tres Hombres, a haven for beautiful people that churns out margaritas like George Bush does verbal gaffes.

I went with the classic Cadillac, made with Souza Gold tequila and a “float” of Grand Marnier. Tres Hombres gets points for presentation alone—a giant 27-ounce fishbowl-of-a-goblet with a light glaze of salt around the rim. Smooth, not too sweet, and the salt wasn’t overwhelming. At $10.75, it’s a little steep but probably the best tasting of the five.

Mr. Bastard slugged down his blended pineapple margarita, and we were off to our next destination, Duffy’s Tavern.

Duffy’s, you ask? Well, the dark little tavern may be known more for its Bloody Marys than its margaritas, but we happen to like the place.

I ordered the Duffy’s version of the Cadillac. Bastard, however, was plumb out of luck, as Duffy’s doesn’t cater to those who like blended-smoothie infusions.

Our margaritas were served in 16-ounce pint glasses, and, although they were smaller than the Hombres', the alcohol content probably doubled. Our bartender made ’em stiff and dropped a splash of Triple Sec, which gave my margarita that extra zip. Nice touch, my friend—and at $4.75 quite the bargain.

Being the lightweights that we are, Local Bastard and I were feeling the effects and called it a night, to resume a few days later at The Black Crow.

The Crow offered nothing of the blended variety for Bastard, but I kept in form with my standard margarita.

Served in a pint glass, the Black Crow margarita came with a smidgen of orange juice, which was good. It was probably my least favorite of the bunch—not bad, but a little too sweet and the finely ground Kosher salt was overpowering. At $7.50, it was spendy, but hey, it was The Black Crow.

Next on the list was Panama Bar and California Grill, a place known for its laundry list of sweet girlie drinks. That’s no knock. I like things that are sweet and girlie—girls, bands, etc.

I again went with the traditional margarita, as did Señor Bastard. I noticed the bartender squeezing a copious amount of lime juice in them, which neutralized the sweetness. They were very refreshing, and at 10 bucks for the two, a savvy investment.

Local Bastard couldn’t join me on my final stop on this roller-coaster ride through Margaritaville (damn, I thought I would make it through this article without a lame Jimmy Buffet reference). So I went with a friend of mine to the far side of town, to The Maltese. “Penelope” opted for a Guinness (bless her heart), and I went with the usual.

It was perfect, and the bartender even stabbed a miniature American flag in my lime. The price tag, about $4, was a good, old-fashioned American value, too.

So what did Local Bastard and I take from our experience? I think poor old Margarita Sames would probably roll over in her grave if she knew how we’ve bastardized the simple recipe she whipped up more than 60 years ago. I mean come on, candy corn margaritas? Then again, the estate of Margarita Sames has probably been reaping the benefits for decades.

Now, what are you the reader going to gain from this review of five margaritas from five totally random bars? Not much. Anyway, here’s a quick recap of our adventures with Sames’ classic cocktail. Tres Hombres: big and tasty. Duffy’s: stiff and cheap. The Black Crow: spendy and salty. Panama: smooth and limey. The Maltese: miniature American flag.

How to make a classic margarita
In its most basic and enduring form, the margarita is a simple drink. The important thing is to use good tequila, preferably pure agave tequila. Gold will do if you’re on a budget. Also, avoid mixes and bottled lime juice. Use fresh lime juice, preferably squeezed from small Mexican limes, if available.

2 ounces tequila

1 ounce Triple Sec

1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with cubed or crushed ice and agitate furiously (not angrily). Pour into a salt-rimmed glass (to get salt to stick, run lime wedge around the lip of the margarita glass).

Note: Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Mandarin Napoleon or Midori may be used in place of Triple Sec.

Local Bastard’s homemade sunshine goodness
Don’t you worry your little head about where Mr. Lore finds his favorite margarita. If you’re goin’ down the umbrella-girlie-drink road (face it, margaritas are girlie drinks), why not dive into the most refreshing, ice-cold, blended, fruity, girlie version you can find. Better yet, skip the expensive Mexican restaurant and pack your head in this ice:

One Super Big Gulp cup (empty)

One regular Big Gulp Slurpee (make it a fruity one)

16oz. Montezuma tequila

One stick of Red Vine candy

Pour most of your Slurpee into the Super Big Gulp cup, add tequila and stir. Bite off ends of Red Vine to make a straw, and suck. (Note: In the event of “brain freeze,” swing both hands wildly and yell, “You’re all against me!”)