The wild popularity of Magaritas notwithstanding, tequila does not figure as prominently into the global cocktail canon as, say gin. Yet agave spirits are arguably the most exciting category in the United States right now. As imports improve, and bars like Clavel in Baltimore and Houston’s Pastry War showcase agave spirits’ diversity, bartenders celebrate the bounty with traditional and inventive cocktails. That’s why we asked eight bartenders coast to coast to tell us their favorite tequila cocktails.
“The Mexican Firing Squad is a little more discreet than the traditional Paloma or Margarita. It’s a great alternative to conventional tequila cocktails with lots of flavors going on here from the bitters, citrus, and seasonal grenadine.” – Brett Heyer, Bartender, The Grange Restaurant and Bar, Sacramento, CA
“My favorite tequila cocktail as of late is one I created at Sen Sakana called Oaxacan Garden. The cocktail consists of mezcal, pisco-soaked grilled tomatoes, reduced chancaca (Peruvian molasses), and celery bitters. The glass is rinsed with Japanese whisky, served over ice, and garnished with tomato and onion.”— Zachary Gross, Beverage Director, Sen Sakana, NYC
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“Tequila King is called that because I use Don Julio 1942. I muddle cilantro, lime juice, and agave. Then I add the tequila, which allows it to take on a different character. It’s very light and beautiful, and garnished with a smoked sea salt rim and cilantro, and served over a single large ice cube. It’s a campfire meets cilantro meets Don Julio 1942. These three scents create a great melody of flavors: pleasing not only to your sense of smell but also to the palate.” — Neil Matchko, Head Bartender, Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach, CA
“The Paloma. The key to this classic is the quality of the grapefruit juice you use. Use fresh and sweet grapefruit! We happen to have our own grapefruit tree, which the home mixologist may not, so don’t worry [if you can’t use] the grapefruit leaf garnish. The drink will still be wonderful. A ginger/chili/salt rim of the glass is crucial, though.” — Jim Lunchick, Merriman’s Restaurant, Waimea, Hawaii
“I love a classic Margarita because there are so many ways to make it. No matter if it’s summer or winter, you can mix it up with all kinds of seasonal fruits and different tequilas to customize the flavor. My personal favorite is a cucumber Margarita — it’s so refreshing, tastes good year-round and just keeps you coming back for more.”— Alex Zurita, Beverage Manager, Public House, Las Vegas, NV
“The Spicy Mango is a tequila cocktail with a little kick to it, which always appeals to me. It’s created with mango puree, lemon, lime juice, a ghost chili pepper-infused tequila, agave, and a tajin/salt rim. Great flavors and its kick makes you want to keep on drinking.” — Tyler Benson, Head Bartender, Three Seventy Common, Laguna Beach, CA
“My favorite tequila cocktails is an El Diablo; I love Margaritas in general, especially if it’s balanced with ginger beer.” — Omag Mazhar, Beverage Director, Rahi, NYC
“The Desert Rose is my favorite tequila drink. The color is a vibrant candy apple red, as if it were glowing. It’s my favorite because the tequila itself doesn’t get overshadowed by the other ingredients like in other tequila drinks, and it’s a great conversation piece for any occasion.” — Ryan McGraw, Bartender, Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine & Cocktails, Irvine, CA