The Usual at Jose
El Bolero's Sage Margarita, a classic with an herbal kick
As of late, my e-mail inbox runneth over with press releases and pitches of stories surrounding National Margarita Day, which is officially set for this Friday, February 22.
And while I appreciate the effort, I think these sweet publicists have got it all wrong. Little do I care about the most popular frozen margarita in town — and, no, I don’t plan on following your suggested recipe for a spicy margarita infused with 12 other hard-to-find ingredients.
If you know me, you know. I only drink tequila — save for the occasional dirty martini. But, in general, it’s only tequila — and I don’t like it to be fussed with.
A bit of backstory: After suffering an onslaught of health issues seven years ago, my poor system now rejects all wine, all syrupy mixed cocktails, and goes into shock if I stand so much as two feet too close to a can of beer. This debacle also includes all standard iterations of margaritas. Le sigh.
And so it is that I find myself typically in the position of ordering a tequila on the rocks during happy hours and charity galas alike — much to the surprise of acquaintances who eye me like I am being overtly aggressive when it comes to cocktailing. (For the record, I’m about as far as you can get from a lush.)
Tequila being good for you? This isn’t news.
Plenty has been penned about the healing powers of tequila, especially for those with health issues. It is very low in calories — and also very low in sugar — making it the perfect elixir for those with food sensitivities. If that isn’t convincing enough, once, while on holiday in San Miguel, my sweet tour guide told me that tequila isn’t really alcohol. No, he said. It’s magical water that helps you talk to God. Consider me sold.
But, back to this National Margarita Day thing — and the purpose of my writing this story in the first place.
Years ago, I found it challenging to find a restaurant that offered a so-called margarita on the menu that checked all my boxes. So, much like Meg Ryan’s character in When Harry Met Sally, I was the high-maintenance orderer.
You know the line: “I’d like the chef salad, please, with oil and vinegar on the side, and the apple pie a la mode. But I’d like the pie heated, and I don’t want the ice cream on top. I want it on the side, and I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla, if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real. If it’s out of the can, then nothing …”
Instead of pie, though, my request went a little something like this: “I’d like the skinny margarita — but with no Splenda.” Cue a quizzical look from the waiter. “Yes,” I’d explain. “A margarita, no sweetener. Just tequila, lime juice, and maybe a splash of Cointreau.” “No agave?” our sweet garçon would ask in shock. Nope.
By the look on the waiter’s face you would have thought I was requesting the restaurant whip me up a quick batch of Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon — not a simple, straightforward drink. Rare would restaurants get it right — adding in too much soda, too much Cointreau, too many limes (or no lime at all), even (alas!) trying to sneak in the regular margarita in place of my recipe.
But now, it seems, times are changing.
More restaurants in our Tex Mex-obsessed city must have been listening to my requests, as I can now find my favorite tequila cocktail (sure, call it a margarita) actually on the menu at several restaurants in town. You can find those perfect places listed below.
Oh, and if you’d like to stay in and indulge, my favorite tequilas are as follows:
If mixing with soda water and the squeeze of two limes: Casamigos Blanco.
If sipping slowly and on the rocks: A reposado by Espolon or Corralejo. (Fun fact: I ended up with my two cats in part due to a Corralejo on the rocks, which I was casually sipping on my patio one summer evening when a litter of kittens happened to show up. Another story for another day…)
If you’re feeling fancy: Casa Dragones. This is boasted as being the smoothest kind of sipping tequila, but I fancy it best with a large cube of ice and a squeeze of two limes. No added soda water. Oh, and the bottle is mightily pretty. I save them and use them as flower vases.
Now, here are some worthy Dallas margarita restaurants:
Taco Heads – Texas Ranch Water
I love this little eatery so much. Firstly, it’s walking distance to my apartment on Henderson Avenue. And secondly, it’s the perfect indoor-outdoor vibe, reminding me of some of my favorite California spots. The Texas Ranch Water is made with El Jimador tequila and fresh-pressed lime juice, served in a bottle of Topo Chico. Very stealthy.
Jose – The Usual
If Jose co-owner Brady Wood knows anything (aside from how to run an uber-popular restaurant), it’s how to serve tequila. The Usual is served in a la carte fashion: Casamigos Blanco comes in a glass on the rocks, alongside a small glass of fresh lime juice and a tiny bottle of Topo Chico. You add the lime juice and sparkling water to taste. Control freaks unite!
Jalisco Norte – The Tequila Menu, Period
I suppose this is cheating, but just go with me on this one. Jalisco Norte I adore for its tree house-style patio. But, I also must give it praise for the tequila menu, which includes every, single one of my favorite tequilas. Yes. There is Casamigos and Casa Dragones, but most restaurants have those. At Jalisco, they also have my beloved Espolon and Corralejo.
Translation? Your order, here, is easy. Espolon or Corralejo reposado if you care to sip on the rocks; Casamigos or Casa Dragones if you splash in soda and lime.
El Bolero — Skinny Margarita
We can’t truly call it a skinny, as this cocktail contains a splash of bittersweet Patron Citronge Orange, which contains a heap of sugar (it’s a liqueur). But, of all the skinny margaritas out there, this one wins for one simple reason: no added agave; no added Splenda. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Instead, Hornitos Plata tequila with lime and the aforementioned Patron Citronge Orange is really quite nice — and not too sweet. Added props must be given to El Bolero for opening a location closer to my abode. The new Fitzhugh Avenue digs are but a three minute walk from my apartment.
By the way, Ranch Water (see: Taco Heads) has apparently become a household name. I welcome anyone who can enlighten me as to the origins of this cocktail moniker — and also explain to me why I’m just now finding out about it.