Yes, I am aware of what time of year it is in Louisville. And I know I should be talking about minty juleps and silly hats and posh parties that I’m not invited to. But it’s also been a long winter. Like, too long, too dark, too cold, 2 Pac.
I’m ready to break for the beach. Perch myself at a tiki bar and keep the tab open for weeks. I want sun, I want sand, I want a … stiff margarita in my hand.
To help usher out those winter blahs, I grabbed two friends who often tilt toward tequila and we embarked on a mission to find Louisville’s best margaritas — those delightful drinks that are rimmed with salt and shame. Tequila may make your clothes fall off, but nobody said they didn’t have fun in the process.
Warning: We must have been in a spicy mood, because most of these recipes involved some kind of kick. We also found fresh ingredients are always better, and there’s a reason none of these winning cocktails used store-bought sour mix.
That cheap mix some places use is full of sugar, calories and high-fructose corn syrup. These drinks were not. And I didn’t even need a single Tums, which is saying a lot.
So, in honor of Cinco de Mayo and the sun finally stumbling out of its four-month stupor, here are seis of the ciudad’s most bueno margaritas, muchachos.
No. 1 — El Mundo’s Mosquito ($7.50)
My margarita wranglers found many they liked on El Mundo’s menu, but my absolute favorite was the spicy Mosquito, made with Morales Blanco tequila, jalapeño, lime, agave nectar and cilantro. The cilantro is shaken with the ingredients, so bits of the green herb float throughout the drink.
At first sip, the familiar flavors of lime, salt and tequila caress your taste buds, and then the kick comes in at the end and simmers like a “Jersey Shore” hot tub after the bars close. The heat makes you keep sipping, but with each swallow, the spice intensifies.
It’s a good idea to keep a glass of water around to avoid sucking it down in five minutes.
No. 2 — Dragon King’s Daughter’s Chularita ($8)
Most people wouldn’t guess you’d find a decent margarita at an Asian fusion restaurant, but most people also find it hard to think outside the box.
This little Highlands gem has stepped up its bar program in recent years and makes killer cocktails, including two versions of a margarita and an old fashioned, among others.
The Chularita is made with El Jimador Reposado tequila, Cointreau, fresh-squeezed lime juice and agave nectar and is shaken with fresh jalapeño. Served in a standard rocks glass, the margarita is simple yet decadent — and, oh my, is it spicy.
It also paired nicely with the ginger chicken tacos I added spicy sour cream to. Spice is nice.
No. 3 — Guaca Mole’s La Picosita ($9)
Guaca Mole’s margarita menu features 16 iterations of the classic tequila cocktail, so it was a bit of a challenge to decide which one was the best. I also had to hit this East End spot all alone, because I couldn’t get those other two yahoos to venture outside the Watterson.
But alas, I settled on the La Picosita, made with chile-infused El Jimador Reposado tequila, lime juice, agave nectar and housemade sour mix.
This puppy was hot, and it demanded my attention from the first sip. I got it to sit, but it did not stay for long.
As I chatted with a friendly Michigan woman in town on business and snacked on some chips and queso, bartender Luiz whipped up a few more sample-size margs from the menu.
The top shelf La Mera-Mera Rita was quite tasty, as was the Mango Picante — a version of the Picosita with mango and pineapple juice instead of lime and sour mix — but I decided to stick with the Picosita as the winner.
No. 4 — Galaxie’s Spicy Margarita ($8)
Normally we aimed for something a bit more fancy than the house margarita, but at Galaxie in NuLu, there’s no need to, because their house is already a mansion. You can get their daily special either regular or spicy, so of course we chose spicy and marveled at the bits of jalapeño floating about.
Bonus points for the fluorescent silly straws.
Their margarita is made with Lunazul tequila, triple sec, fresh citrus and salt on the rim, and during happy hour (4-6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday), the bad boys are half-off! I could do some damage in two hours time, no problem.
You can also get said margarita in pitcher form for $28 — in case you feel like sharing.
No. 5 — Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen’s The Buzzz! ($15)
This was the most expensive margarita on our list, but after reading the ingredient list, we couldn’t not try it. The Buzzz! is made with Patron Anejo tequila, Cointreau, housemade sour mix, fresh jalapeño and honey, and it was cake in a glass.
I’m a fan of Merle’s regular Mannyrita, especially during happy hour before a concert at the Yum! Center, but this was the first time I — and my cohorts — tried this top-shelf concoction.
Because it is so pricey (you could get two Mannys for the price of one Buzzz), I will probably order it sparingly, but I’m glad we tried this because it was the most unusual of the bunch.
The honey and jalapeño really stole the show as they danced the tango in my mouth. I was ready for the encore.
No. 6 — Migo’s Bad & Boujee ($9)
With a name like Bad & Boujee, how could we pass it up? This top-shelf margarita features Casamigo Anejo tequila, housemade sour mix, a splash of fresh-squeezed orange juice and a floater of Grand Marnier.
If you’re unfamiliar with floaters, they’re that extra ounce or two of liquor bartenders pour on top of, say, a piña colada at a beach bar. I’m a big fan of floaters, naturally, so I was happy to see a swirl of the fancy orange liqueur in my drink.
All of Migo’s drinks are solid, and I usually go with the old fashioned when I’m there, but Team Tequila orders the margarita every time, and for good reason. It was the perfect blend of sweet and sour that tasted like an ocean breeze — a real one, not a $2.99 candle you buy at Target.
I even thought I heard a seagull as I swallowed my first sip.