Chef Sue Torres takes her tequila and mezcal neat. “If it’s good, you really don’t need much,” she says.
And the menu at her New York restaurant, Sueños, reflects that idea. It stocks more than 50 different agave-based spirits—along with some of the best and most authentic Mexican food in town. There are also cocktails: seven variations on the Margarita, plus an array of original concoctions.
It makes sense that Torres became a chef. The daughter of an Italian mother and a Puerto Rican father, she grew up with family on both sides that cared about food. A lot. She learned to fish and crab from her grandfather and helped out in her mom’s family’s sizable vegetable garden. “My grandmother was adamant about getting the whole family to sit down for a meal,” she says.
After stints at a few of Manhattan’s finest establishments, including the ‘21’ Club and Le Grenouille, as well as an apprenticeship in Mexico City, Torres opened her own place. And Sueños has been going strong for almost 10 years.
So what will Torres be doing for Cinco de Mayo? “I celebrate Cinco de Mayo by staying in my kitchen for 18 hours,” she says. Such is the life of a chef, but that doesn’t mean she has no advice to offer.
The first tip is surprisingly simple: Cut limes in thirds instead of in half before juicing them. Torres got that trick from one of her cooks and says it yields a lot more from each fruit.
If your Cinco de Mayo guests claim they don’t like tequila, Torres says, they just haven’t tried the right one. She recommends the relatively affordable El Mayor, 7 Leguas or Tequila Ocho, along with Del Maguey’s line of mezcals. To make it a bit more interesting, serve Sangrita with the liquor. “It helps draw out more flavors from the tequila and enhance it,” Torres says.
As for pairing bites with your drinks, Torres says, “not all tequila and mezcal goes well with all Mexican food.” Try to match complementary flavors or shoot for a complete contrast. The smoky mezcal float in her Suzy’s Smokin’ Margarita, for example, is a perfect partner for her chipotle-spiked Tequila-Flamed Shrimp. But the drink’s tart notes could also highlight the richness of dishes like duck confit and pork belly.
So take it from a pro: When you’re celebrating Cinco de Mayo next weekend, break out the tequila and mezcal. It’s the only way to go.