Saturday, March 25, 2023

DOS ROCAS – My Quest For the Best Margarita in Zihuatanejo

Whenever I spend any time in Mexico—or anywhere for that matter—I’m always on a quest for the perfect margarita.

I guess I’m spoiled. You see, I’ve come up with a margarita recipe of my own that I like a lot. So when Sally and I are home, no problem. But when I’m out, I hope to find a drink I'll enjoy at least as much as the one I can make at home. Is that too much to ask?

Right now I’m in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico once again for our annual month-long stay, and I’ve already had 23 of those days to, shall we say, drink around for this town’s, this year’s, best margarita. Here’s what I’ve found.

(I realize how vital reviews can be for restaurants, and that they’re subjective. Even the four-star places get panned now and then by someone who was just having a bad day. Or maybe the restaurant was just having a bad day. So, the only contestant I’ll actually name will be my winner.)

          You’ll see me scoping out the nearest
          deck edge or potted plant to catch my
           jettisoned excess ice.

One might expect, at a super-high-end restaurant, a decent margarita. Right? Well, we’ve dined at two of them here this year, where that cocktail—priced at $220-260 mx ($12-14 usd)—is made, I'd assume, with only the best and freshest ingredients and by an experienced bartender.

At both, I got what I expected, a decent margarita; not great. The one at Restaurant A was nicely balanced—maybe just a tad on the sour side; definitely nice, fresh lime flavor; a good, unobtrusive tequila—but something was missing. Maybe it was the proportions; it just tasted a bit flat.

Fancy Restaurant B’s margarita, billed on the drink list as the “Best Margarita In the Universe!", was unusually dark in color. It, too, had a nice blending of flavors, but there was a bitter, sort of funky note in there. Like maybe the bartender threw in some foo-foo Bulgarian orange liqueur.

This pricey cocktail also violated one of my cardinal rules for margaritas: If I order my drink sin sal—without salt—don’t bring me one where the bartender mistakenly dipped the rim in salt and then, alerted to the error, simply wiped it off. Because I can taste the part that fell into my drink as he did it.

While I’m at it, here’s another pet peeve: Packing the glass solid with ice may taste good on the bar’s bottom line, but not to a customer who likes his margaritas bold. When I ask for just dos rocas—two ice cubes—it’s because a margarita recipe does not call for a couple of ounces of water, which is exactly what you get—in the tropics, it happens in minutes—when there’s so much more ice than drink.

If the portion served over two cubes ends up filling only a third of the glass, at least the place scores a point for honesty. Otherwise, you’ll see me scoping out the nearest deck edge or potted plant to catch my jettisoned excess ice…and then nursing the precious few sips of liquid that are left.

         This restaurant’s bartender honors my
         dos rocas request and still manages to
         give me a nearly full drink.

The next contestant for Best Margarita in Zihuatanejo, 2023: Restaurant C.
Sally and I have this standing joke about this place: What’s worse than a truly abysmal margarita? Two-for-one. I don’t know why I keep trying them, but the margaritas there are just wrong…and have been for years. I guess I keep hoping they’ll change.

Heavy on lime and light on orange, the drink’s foundation is obviously a pre-made mix—one that no one's ever bothered to taste. And the tequila responsible for the caustic burn as each sip claws its way down my throat has got be the very cheapest, the very worst, available. So, is that a “no?” It is.

Curiously, Restaurant D, just down the street from the booby prize winner, was my winner last year. That 2022 version was outstanding, well balanced, a perfect blend of sweet and tart, and featured a nice tequila that was smooth, yet let you know you were having a cocktail. Add to this the fact that this is a very modestly priced restaurant, and I left anxious to return this year.

Alas, this year either the recipe or the bartender—or both—have changed. The margarita isn’t bad at all, just not a champion. But I should add that this restaurant’s bartender—both last year’s and this—honors my dos rocas request and still manages to give me a serious drink.

Sneaking into the competition at the last minute is, of all places, a pizza joint. As I’m wrapping up this post, I just went there to order a pizza to go. They said twenty minutes, so I ordered a margarita…you know, just to pass the time. I didn't expect much.

Considering my dos rocas rule, it was an honest presentation. The glass had tres rocas—an acceptable margin of error—which resulted in a glass just half full of liquid. Even so, I’m pretty sure it was a double, and Restaurant E proved a contender worthy of Honorable Mention. The most pleasant time I’ve ever spent waiting for a pizza.


This year’s winner of the One Man's Wonder Best Margarita in Zihuatanejo is DANIEL'S, located in El Centro along the Paseo del Pescador. Sally and I met a friend under their palapa for dinner last week. I asked the waiter how their margaritas are. He said, “The best in town.” We’ll see, I thought.

My DANIEL'S margarita arrived in a substantial, blue-rimmed, stemmed goblet. There was no salt on the rim nor in the drink; and there were exactly dos rocas.

To this wannabe aficionado’s taste, this cocktail had a perfect balance between sweet and tart; a quality and amount of tequila that I found delicious and satisfying; and the portion didn't look like it had been poured with an eye dropper. The kicker: the slice-of-lime garnish exuded that oily essence of lime that makes only the best margaritas a treat for the nose as well as the palate.

The waiter was right. I ordered another. And it wasn’t even two-for one.


Wednesday, March 22, 2023

MAS QUE SALTA A LA VISTA – The Sounds of Zihuatanejo

Beautiful Zihuatanejo, this enchanting Pacific Coast town in the Mexican state of Guerrero, inspires a rush of sensory impressions. What always hits me first are the visual ones, the colors, patterns, forms and textures of a place that’s not afraid to flaunt them all.

I’ve often likened these visual excitements to a feast for a starving man, and this year, having just escaped a monochromatic, snowier-than-usual Minnesota winter for a while, I’m snarfing down the sights even more eagerly than usual.

       Their embellishment—the weft, if you
       will—is an array of softer, more
       and richly
textured fibers.

But we possess, after all, five senses. I derive great pleasure from exploring them all. So let me feature another with some praise for the winsome sounds of this place.

Many are those one might hear in any developed-world town: the chatter of people’s comings and goings, the clack and clang of light industry, the hum of traffic. Sounds I don’t consider especially pleasant.

But that’s where the sound tapestry of Zihuatanejo takes a turn to the exotic. If the warp of the cloth, its strength, is those workaday strands of noise, their embellishment—the weft, if you will—is an extraordinary array of softer, more colorful and richly textured fibers.


The soft breath of the Pacific surf; the shy coos of Inca doves; the haunting little flute ditty of the itinerant knife sharpener; strains of ranchero music animating the work of painters and carpenters.


There’s also the laughter of kids splashing in the surf along Playa La Ropa; the traditional música costeña of strolling musicians; the “Peta, Peta, Peta” call of the young attendant hanging out the door of the rickety bus to Petatlan.

And the rustle of palm fronds; the barely perceptible whirr of a ceiling fan; and the bird-like chirps of geckos as they stalk bugs on the ceiling.

        Even the Spanish word for German makes
        the German word for it sound severe.

And then, of course, there’s the language.

My family roots are German. Naturally, offered the choice of just French or German in high school, I took German. I’m sure that made my parents and perhaps the spirits of a few long-gone ancestors very happy.

But in my mid-50s I decided I’d been a Mexican fisherman in a previous life, and that “Ich bin ein Fischer” just wouldn’t sound right coming out of that character’s mouth. So I took up Spanish, and have become, if not a great fisherman, a passable hispanohablante.

Spanish, with its softer, romance-language color and lilt, is another of those weft strands that make the tapestry of sound here in Zihuatenejo so rich and vibrant. I mean even the Spanish word for German—aleman—makes the German word for it—deutsch—sound severe.

So, while I still think of Zihuatanejo’s visual blessings as good enough to eat, I think I’ll digest them wrapped in the fine serape of its audible ones.