The concept of edible ingredients moving from the kitchen to your drinks is not a new concept, but with tequila’s source being rooted in a plant itself, agave spirits are ideal when paired with other plants, whether vegetables, fruits or herbs. With spring in full bloom and summer around the corner, we’re perpetually in the tequila mood, and these are eight tequila cocktails in U.S. bars that highlight the beauty of agave.
Boston’sHotel Commonwealth is heaven for food and drink lovers, starting with inspired seafood and wine atIsland Creek Oyster Bar and exquisite cocktails atThe Hawthorne, both downstairs in the hotel. But for all-day imbibing,Eastern Standard is a third option, a modern day brasserie with comforting food and refined but drinkable cocktails. A recent standout on the tequila front is Carmen’s Letter, a lesson in understatement with just enough, but not too much, honey, lime, bitters, ruby port and a pinch of cayenne, all singing in harmony with tequila.
In downtown L.A., chef Ray Garcia’s fantastic Mexican dishes atBroken Spanish are matched by bar manager Michael Lay’s exquisite agave-spirit-centric cocktails. Lay does right by tequila in a myriad of forms. The Green Garden is garden-fresh and vibrant green, mixing blanco tequila, Belle de Brillet pear liqueur, lemon, ginger and a green juice medley, garnished by a fennel flower. Alternately, the Tepache Fizz is served in a mug, featuring blanco tequila and genever, lush with East Indian cream sherry, lemon, pineapple tepache soda, cinnamon and spices.
The romantic Harvest Inn feels like a true retreat among redwood groves and gardens in Napa Valley’s St. Helena. Even better with on-site restaurantHarvest Table, chef Levi Mezick’s quality dishes and lead bartender Joel Pfeifle’s creative cocktails, utilizing ingredients pulled from their gardens. Napa summer is exemplified in the fruity-smoky joy of the Smoke Eater, combining blanco tequila with a touch mezcal, lime, a house strawberry shrub and fresh mint syrup. The vinegar is subtle but provides backbone, while the strawberry-mint combo shines, perfectly balanced with the agave spirits.
The Franklin Bar has been one of Philadelphia’s best bars for years. And now with a more casual upstairs bar, there’s plenty of space for those who want a livelier, quality drink upstairs, while downstairs remains the intimate, original basement bar, encouraging lingering over cocktail tasting menus from bar manager Sara Justice and her team. Key lime pie is evoked with restraint and deliciousness in There Is No Dana, Only Zuul, combining blanco tequila, a house lime cordial, cream, graham cracker, cinnamon and egg white into a frothy, tart whole.
Alongside excellent South Indian cuisine,Dosa on Fillmore (and its sister location in the Mission, Dosa Valencia) recalls London with fresh, modern elegance and classic Indian flavors. This also applies to lead bartender Chris Lukens’ cocktail menu, featuring drinks with Indian ingredients. Though not tequila specifically, rather agave spirit sotol, the Morjim Goa on the spring menu is a nuanced treat combining Sotol Hacienda de Chihuahua, Lo-Fi amaro (locally produced in Napa), lime and spiced agave syrup with a perk of heat from Scrappy’s Firewater Tincture bitters and wispy texture from garam masala air on top.
Despite the doorbell and reservations needed atThe Walker Inn, service and the vibe is warm, inviting and blessedly mellow, thanks to the controlled setting. Though cocktails may cost $20, changing themed menus are intriguing, especially the recent Alice Waters–inspired menu, which is all about California-abundant ingredients. On that menu, the Arugula Greens mixes tequila with pisco, rum, arugula and lemon, while staff pairs the drink with bites like nuts, goat cheese on crisps, arugula and balsamico, illuminating flavor components in the drink.
Bombs Away with coconut-washed Campari and Mexican Orange Fanta (image: Virginia Miller)
Boston’s newerHojoko is about much fun as you can have at any bar, thanks to the staff and a playful-cool space, with boozy slushies and cocktail odes to Tiki flowing alongside superb Japanese izakaya fare. But it’s not just about rum cocktails. Creative good-time drinks include the Tokyo Tea, highlighting Olmeca Altos blanco tequila with lemon, green tea syrup and a house bittered Midori. While you’re at it, don’t miss the Bombs Away shot-bombs, like coconut-washed Campari with Mexican Orange Fanta, or blanco tequila with a spicy, house pineapple shrub soda.
Just steps from the inspiring San Francisco Bay and with views of the idyllic waterfront town of Sausalito,Copita is better than ever with new executive chef Daniel Tellez’s lobster tacos and lamb birria. The restaurant’s agave spirits collection is top-notch, making flights a great option. But so are the cocktails, whether the robust Ziggy Stardust, combining mezcal, Aperol, Yellow Chartreuse, grapefruit and lime, or the No Religion, No Politics, served tall and bright with reposado tequila, lime, Bénédictine, pineapple shrub, mint and chile-infused agave.