The beauty of a classic margarita is in its simplicity: tequila, triple sec and fresh lime juice. It’s a great way to taste the flavor of tequila alongside a refreshing hint of citrus. The margarita is one of the most popular cocktails in the U.S. for good reason, and its widespread acceptance has encouraged unique variations. Charleston has its fair share of unique twists on this classic cocktail, and you can sample them all on Feb. 22, National Margarita Day.
Mint Berry Crunch
“Tacos. Tequila. Cold Beer.” is plastered on the front of this North Charleston restaurant, so you know it takes margaritas seriously. The food truck-turned-restaurant always offers a seasonal frozen and regular margarita on the menu that rotates every couple of months.
When the City Paper spoke with Rebel Taqueria, the Mint Berry Crunch was one of the specialty margaritas. Named after a South Park character, the cocktail features blackberry, raspberry, acai cinnamon simple syrup, fresh mint and crushed up Captain Crunch cereal berries to garnish the rim.
“When we are coming up with new drinks, we base it on jokes, what we have seen on TV, or what we have been talking about recently,” owner Lewis Kesaris said. “We make up a name for things first, and then think how we’re going to use that name to make a drink.”
An example of a fun specialty frozen margarita, he said, is the chocolate banana frosty, made with Giffard’s banana liqueur, Hershey’s chocolate, and of course, tequila. Kesaris recommends adding a floater of Rebel’s housemade tequila café (coffee-infused tequila) for an extra kick.
Whatever you’re mixing into your margarita, Kesaris’ said, the key to nailing this classic drink is how you shake it.
“With the same ingredients, people wonder why their margarita isn’t as good, and it’s because they’re probably not shaking it hard enough,” he said. “It will be hard for someone who isn’t a professional bartender to get it frothy enough, and it’s all about the texture.”
Aloe isn’t just for sunburns anymore. Island Provisions’ new downtown café is incorporating the soothing plant into its margarita as the warmer weather creeps back into Charleston.
“Essentially, we just love tequila and we wanted to lighten it up,” said owner James Groetzinger. “Since it’s in the cacti family, it has that same kind of mouthfeel that you get from agave, so it paired really nicely with it.”
The drink is a refreshing combination of blanco tequila, lime juice, aloe juice and Chareau liqueur with a sea salt and Tajín rim.
The inspiration behind the drink was the Chareau liqueur, which Groetzinger discovered through the shop’s spirit supplier, Equal Parts Fine Spirits & Bottle Shop, owned by his brother Roderick Groetzinger. The liqueur is organic, made in California and has botanical elements like lemon peel and cucumber, which fits right in at Island Provisions.
“Our whole menu is kind of a detox retox as we call it,” he said. “We like to weave healthier components into our menu across the board.”
This philosophy is reflected in the rest of the cocktail menu as well, the drinks are light, low sugar and incorporate ingredients from local suppliers, including the cafe’s Bloody Mary mix, tonic water and cocktail syrups.
“I think margaritas should be light and approachable,” Groetzinger added. “Sometimes I think people just put too much in there when they should just let the tequila do the work.”
The St. Philip Street cafe plans on offering a happy hour from 3 – 5 p.m. when you can sample this margarita and other refreshing cocktails on the menu. The margarita is not available at the Johns Island location.
Green Chile Margarita
The food and drink menu at Rancho Lewis is a nod to pitmaster John Lewis’ Texan roots in both El Paso and Austin, which means lots of green chiles.
Green chiles star in the ever-popular spicy margaritas at this downtown restaurant, and the most unique way to taste these chiles is in the frozen margarita.
Fresh hatch green chile juice adds a kick to a margarita on the rocks or the Mexican martini, but the frozen margarita gets its own special treatment.
“When we added the green chile juice to the frozen margarita, it didn’t resonate as well, so we created a candied green chile, almost like a marmalade to incorporate into the drink, and the hint of sweetness pairs really well,” said Patty Arredondo, general manager and opening partner.
The frozen margarita almost looks like a swirled ice cream cone with the ribbon of green chile that runs through it. A chile lime Tajín rim complements the subtle heat of the green chile to balance flavors.
Although the frozen margarita is the most unique, the Mexican martini and on-the-rocks margaritas should not be missed; especially because the restaurant has a cocktail shaking machine called “the machina” that is quite the spectacle. Instead of making one drink at a time, the machina can vigorously shake two cocktails at once, leaving the bartender free to work on other tasks, while still serving the coldest drinks possible.
When you order the Mexican martini, you get the coldest drink possible because it is served straight from the shaker for the guest to pour themselves.
“You want the coldest margarita, right?” Arredondo said. “You want it to be nice and frothy, and you want to be satiated, especially on these humid hot Carolina afternoons, so shaking them in those machinas is the perfect answer so far.”
This drink is a combination of 100% blue agave tequila, lime and olives served just like a martini, with the option to add spice, of course.
“We knew this was something that was going to be unique and not as common in the Charleston area, but in Austin, aside from the frozen margarita, it’s probably one of the most popular drinks,” Arredondo added.
Check out these drinks any day of the week, or if you want a great deal, stop by for happy hour from 4 – 6 p.m. Monday through Friday for half-priced drinks and appetizers.
and Palacio de Bellas Artes
El Pincho Taco
There is no shortage of unique margaritas at this Meeting Street restaurant owned by Mexico City native Sandra Aguirre. Between the restaurant’s Pincho Drinks and its new Mexico City Collection, it serves more than 30 varieties of margaritas.
It can be difficult to pick a favorite from the myriad of options, but Aguirre is a big fan of the Palacio de Bellas Artes margarita from the Mexico City Collection.
“I wanted to relate the drinks that we make here to famous places in Mexico City,” Aguirre said. “The name translates to ‘Palace of Beautiful Arts’ and it’s a beautiful building where sports are hosted or anything related to art, music or theater.”
The beautiful golden dome of the building is reflected in the color of the drink, which is made with Casa Noble silver tequila, orange juice, tamarind pulp, lemon, mezcal and garnished with Tajín and a tamarind stick.
Aguirre chose Casa Noble tequila for this drink because the name translates to noble house, similar to a palace.
In addition to the 30 margarita flavors on the menu, El Pincho will serve a guava margarita specifically for National Margarita Day on Feb. 22. The drink is available now and made with tequila, lemon, fresh guava juice, Nixta (corn liqueur) and garnished with a smoky grasshopper rim to contrast the sweetness.
If you can’t decide between all the flavors, have no fear, El Pincho serves margarita flights. For $18, you can sample four different margaritas.
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