When José penned “North of the Charles, South of the Border” on his self-titled restaurant’s menu, I’m pretty sure he was referencing the Canadian border. These people are to Mexican fare what Kraft is to Italian fare, they just charge a lot more for their goods. To its credit, José’s of Cambridge has a fun ambiance in the decorations, but that’s about it.
My designated driver and I went on a pretty busy night. We had been drawn in by a Groupon–$40 worth of Mexican food for $20. When we arrived, we were seconds behind a couple that was seated immediately, but we waited 5 minutes for the hostess to come back and address us, another 10 minutes for a table (during which we stood at the bar, but the bartender was too busy to say more than “I’ll be right with you”), and another 5 minutes before we got a waitress. Once we got our food, we waited 2 minutes for cutlery before I got up and acquired it myself.
For the daylighting foodies, I’ll mention the noms were okay. In the realm of Mexican cuisine, though, I hope that is an insult. Everything fresh, the ingredients were what you’d expect, but there was absolutely no flair. A packaged, frozen grocery hot dog can be microwaved and slapped on a bun and you can call it a hot dog. But that that absence of culinary passion is not what you get at any baseball game and it certainly isn’t excusable practice for a restaurant. José’s serves Mexican food in the textbook definition, but they do so dispassionately.
But on to the margarita. That’s right, singular. The look is strikingly similar to Border Café, but the effect is quite different. Seriously, how much is a breathalizer? I want to call the FDA and have them inspect the bottles that José’s calls tequila, because I’m pretty sure theirs was water and apple juice. The mix was actually decent, but there’s no way there was more than a quarter ounce of 80 proof tequila in that beverage.
Groupon is a great means for new restaurants to draw in new customers. Either José’s simply wasn’t prepared for the rush of new business or they should not have drawn attention to themselves as an established business. Cambridge–and in fact the greater Boston area–is sorely in need of a great Mexican restaurant. José has the look, but they absolutely need to work on their end-product. It is this margaritaddict’s sincere hope that they will and that when they do, then they’ll use Groupon to earn themselves another chance.
Rated: Top Shelf–Cuervo Traditional Reposado 100% de Blue Agave Tequila by Casa Herradura with a float of Contreau. $8.95
Remember your first shot of tequila? How you tried to swig it like a badass and ended up turning crimson red and coughing for several minutes? It was a special time–you became a true Mexican. You can now relive that feeling, thanks to Olé’s knock-your-socks-off Spicy Mango Margarita. In the spirit of learning the ways of the Mexican, before making my margarita selection, I asked, “how spicy is spicy?” The waitress smirked and asked if I’d heard of habanero sauce. I knew this was the margarita for me. I don’t remember much lending to the “mango” portion of the title, but I liked the follow-through with the spicy. It lost a little respect for the price tag… eleven bucks for a concoction that could have been crafted from a $6.50 margarita and the provided table condiments at Border.
For my Designated Driver’s order, we tried the Bella Rita marg. We didn’t notice it was frozen–the ultimate insult to a tequila. (Like tequila doesn’t render one with enough of a headache, now we need an ice cream headache?) Still, besides its cardinal sin, it was quite tasty and a needed refreshment after the Spicy Mango.
Besides these two margaritas, Olé boasts 7 other specialty margaritas, not to mention a teq list of roughly 50 members and 7 different flights offerings. (And, I know this isn’t a guac-ranking blog, but the table-side guacamole is a fresh show worth its hefty price tag.) For being an inspirational beacon of tequila sustenance, I tip my sombrero to Olé and look forward to re-patronizing them as soon as I can afford to.
Rated: Spicy Mango–Herradura Blanco, Patron Citronage, Mango puree, hint of Habanero. $10
Rated: Bella Rita–Hibiscus Marganta, Herradura Blanco, served frozen. $10
It takes a very special margarita to reduce this tequila connoisseur to rocking back and forth in the margarita corner. But my hat goes off to Krueger of Haverhill, which has accomplished just that. At first sight of their margarita list (that’s right, 13 SPECIALTY margas, plus a house marg on their separate Specialty Drinks list), it was obvious that this was a very special place. I’m not exactly one for fruity ‘ritas, as it tends to cover the treasure of tequila underneath. When the raspberry margarita was suggested and served to me, in fact, I instantly decided I don’t like raspberries. I don’t remember how lunch was (Krueger specializes in flat bread pizza), but my designated driver later recalled to me that by the middle of the beverage, it went from mediocre to the best marg I’d ever had. That sort of rank-manipulation can only be caused by date rape drugs and extremely potent margaritas. Guys, I only had ONE.
Rated: Raspberry Margarita–tequila, Triple Sec, Chambord, sour mix, orange juice. $8
Tamarind Bay is a Washington Square Indian Bistro with a bar consisting of exactly three stools. They’re next to the door, so don’t go during a blizzard. But you should definitely check out their Mangalore Margarita. It’s zesty and light and finds an interesting mix of ingredients to support the tequila. The lime juice is fresh, and at $8.50, it’s something of a ritzy-night-out steal.
Rated: Mangalore Margarita–house tequila, Pama Liqueur, Cointreau, ginger extract, lime juice. $8.50
I don’t mean for the title to be crude. The Washington Square Tavern’s margarita is literally called the Big-Ass Tavern Margarita. And it fails. I don’t care that the menu says “fresh squeezed lime juice,” because that’s a big-ass lie. Your cheeks won’t un-puck from the sourness until long after this unsatisfying experience. For lying on their drink menu, WST gets to hold the lowest rank yet given on Margarita Corner. If there’s any alcohol in this concoction, I certainly couldn’t find it under the sour mix, and my reflexes were no worse for wear. (That’s a bad sign.)
Rated: Big-Ass Tavern Margarita–Sauza, Cointreau, and sour mix. $10.50
Semesters are a terrible time for all things tequila. But in the academic off-season, the ‘Trollers head to the nearest cantina for 150 tequila options. That means 150 different proofs, manufacturers, and flavors. Two in particular, the lime-flavored and the coconut-flavored, combine for a fantabulous post-semester relaxant. It’s like a $7 trip to a warm Puerto Rican beach. And you gotta love the cactus glass.
Rated: Lime and coconut margarita. $7
While out with the Nacho Patrol, it is often prudent to sample margaritas. This is the case for three important reasons:
1) Tequila makes bad nachos go down better.
2) Where thar be Mex-mix, thar be taqs afoot! (Or something.)
3) I can solicit the opinions of (usually) less drunken, equally judgmental critics who tend to have a better memory than I.
I will preface this review only by saying that their website is bestmargarita.com.
Round 1: Traditional Margarita
Ingredients: “homemade” tequila mix (they seem really proud of themselves) and an unspecified type of tequila. It didn’t matter, you couldn’t taste the tequila anyway. D
Alcohol Content: Admittedly, I’m no alcohol virgin, but I kept finding myself asking of the tequila, “is… is it in yet?” D
Flavor: While Fun Dip is delicious, at this stage in my life I prefer booze with my sugar. D
Size: Huge. But it’ll all go straight to your hips, not to your head. A
Cost: $8. Pixi Stix are only 25 cents. D
Round 2: Platinum Margarita
Ingredients: Sauza, lime juice, Triple Sec, lemonade. Sounds amazing, right? The proportions were backward, but I’ll acknowledge the effort. B
Alcohol Content: Again, lacking. They DID check my ID, so I’m pretty sure they weren’t leaving out the booze. D
Flavor: If I’d wanted a plain lemonade, I would have ordered one. D
Size: Again, huge. A
Cost $9. If I’m spending $9 on a lemonade, it’d better be at Fenway. D
Round 3: Sangria
This doesn’t belong in a margarita review, but I thought I’d mention it. I’m a super-picky wine person, so I tend to hate the bitter aftertaste of the cheap wine used to make most sangria. This was much fruitier than most sangria, and therefore less winey, but it clearly had added sugar and was way too sweet. It would have made a satisfactory dessert split between two people.
In summary, I’m suing Cactus Club for rights to their web domain.