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The Search for the Best Margarita in Southern California

Preparing the first chapter of our new e-book, Golden State Eating, we did much first hand research. It's a tough job...I know...hitting bars from Sacramento to San Diego, searching for the perfect margarita, but someone's got to do it.

Along the way, we've had some pretty unspectacular versions. I swear, the one we had at a nationally famous rib joint had to have been poured from a bottle of pre-made Jose Cuervo Margarita bought at the local supermarket. Another one, a high-end restaurant overlooking the bluff that many writers...myself included...laud for their gourmet food and atmosphere, served a $15 version in a tall glass that turned out to be as drinkable as the first one above.

In Old Town San Diego, a "can't miss" margarita...according to the locals...just turned out to be flavored ice. Serve it as a sno-cone for a buck and then we'll talk.

No, the three we chose we're drinks like you never find. Hand crafted with special recipes and personal flourishes. Taste that goes a mile deep along with a kick from the blue agave on the way down. We found these magnificent, hand-made, versions and have gone back again and again...we've got to make sure...to taste the holy grail of margaritadom.

When putting our book together, we knew this is where we'd have to start. Luckily, I got the bartenders to agree to appear on camera and give us their secrets and their stories. One is a real easy modification to a basic recipe, another is a militarily specific measuring of particular ingredients, and the last a version free-poured like an artist doing an abstract canvas.

Here, for Tripatini readers, is an overview of those three spectacular house margaritas (that was another rule...had to be just a normal house version, nothing fancy) in the land of the bland along with a link to the video.

You can watch the entire video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W1mVTSrZok

It’s a hot, dusty street. There’s the adult day care center, an immigration attorney’s office, couple of rehab centers, The United Farm Workers office, massage parlor, and a security firm.

We step into the lobby and then through another door into the bar. “My God,” the thought hits, “it’s dark in here.” I'm so glad the manager showed me the secret dimmer switch so I could get some more light for the camera - traveling light, I didn't have an extra source of light with me. Chalk up another one to experience.

It’ll take you a few minutes to adjust your eyes to the extreme darkness after stepping in from Bakersfield’s bright, washed out sunlight. When they do, you see a few small tables, the bar, dozens of tequila bottles lining the wall, and the bartender ready to do your bidding.

A real old-school version of the margarita, there’s no sour mix here. Each bartender pours from memory…no jiggers allowed. Lemon juice, Montezuma tequila, triple sec, and a squeeze of lime over ice in a lowball glass rimmed with every day table salt.

Take a sip…suddenly you can’t believe the nectar flowing down your throat. Locals have known for a while…they continually vote the house margarita at Mexicali as the best in town. Out-of-towners have no idea, until now.

Rudy’s Mexican Restaurant in Monrovia is run by Rudy Castrellon and his family. Expanding their tiny little café over the years, the restaurant has added a cantina and is up to 200 seats.

Explaining to us that he got the secret recipe from Ray Marshall, the founder of the Acapulco restaurant chain, he pours his bright yellow house margarita with military precision in 16 ounce glasses. 2 exact ounces of tequila, 1 ounce of Dekuyper 48 proof triple sec, topped off with sour mix.

The last ingredient is his secret…Rudy buys the concentrated base, Tavern Brand only, and then dilutes it until it has just the right blend of sweet and sour to top off this deceptively strong margarita.

Not too far away in the canyon city of Azusa, Max Arteaga is the newcomer to this bunch but he's the king of attitude.

Max’s Mexican Cuisine has only been at it for around 5 years, serving great food and drinks just south of Route 66. Customers are all greeted with a “been a long time…where you been?” catching many off guard as does the farewell, “see you tomorrow” and the “why not!?!” when you look puzzled.

It’s all part of the show at Max’s and longtime customers know that it’s done in friendship and would feel abandoned if Max’s suddenly lost its attitude.

Watching the bartender mix our drinks, we don’t see anything special. In fact, it seems like it contains a substantial amount less alcohol than the margarita Rudy makes. Why do they taste so strong?

Augustin, Max’s bartender, gives it away at the end. After the drink is made, I catch him pouring another shot of tequila on top. “We do it for every margarita,” he explains when I ask him. It explains the strong kick when you take your first sip of a house margarita at Max’s.

If you'd like to try one of these heavenly libations, here is where you need to go:

Mexicali
631 18th Street
Bakersfield, California 93301

Rudy’s Mexican Restaurant
602 S. Myrtle Avenue
Monrovia, California 9016

Max’s Mexican Cuisine
635 N. Azusa Avenue
Azusa, California 91702

For the entire margarita story, plus eight more tales of outstanding California cuisine, check out the book Golden State Eating: Nine Tales of California Food Destinations at Amazon.com .

The World on Wheels can be found at http://wheelstraveler.blogspot.com

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Comment by Darryl Musick on October 1, 2012 at 8:35pm

My pleasure, David. And it really was my pleasure to do the required research on this one. ;)

Comment by David Lawrence on October 1, 2012 at 8:45am

thnx for the scouting report darryl!

Comment by Darryl Musick on September 27, 2012 at 9:15pm

Thanks, Nicholas.

Comment by Nicholas Kontis on September 27, 2012 at 4:28pm

Daryl,

Excellent work!

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