Not your premium margaritas - which is preferable since you can alter the flavors to your personal taste. These are the well drinks that unsuspecting patrons get when they say, "I'll have a margarita, please."
All of the margaritas tasted were on the rocks and had salt. I'm going to retain water for a few weeks, thank you. All of them were also made with a prepared mix of some sort. Some were sweet and sour, others were bar-specific concoctions. All drinks tasted are available in Kokomo, Indiana and all of the bartenders said they haven't made any adjustments to their standard recipe.
In fact, nearly all the locations said they have better margaritas if I wanted to pay more. All the servers wanted to know how they ranked especially after they saw my camera. Some servers were much better than others and all servers knew when I placed my order that I was going to be blogging this, so you think they'd be putting their best foot forward.
I enjoyed each margarita on its own. If I were going to a restaurant, any of these drinks would be fine with food and friends. It was a disservice to me that I had to be taking notes and comparing one experience to any other. None were awful, but I wouldn't order most of these on their own merit.
Things you need to know up front:
Margaritas aren't something I crave in the middle of winter,
I rarely buy margaritas , I usually make them at home from scratch, and
I did all of these tastings in one afternoon which resulted in an uncomfortable waste of alcohol.
At 2 pm on Friday, I began my margarita hunt at Hacienda on Plate Street. That's the first photo. My first thought was, "When was this lime cut? Last Friday?" If the garnish was to make it appetizing, then they did just the opposite. But the taste was excellent, it was cold, the tequila flavor was apparent as was the lime. I was informed that they squeeze lime over the drink before serving. Very nice. It was the freshest non-premium margarita of the night.
For $5.75, I got the mug, 12-18 ounce maybe. I could not find a printed price in any menu, so I waited until my bill arrived to find out.
The server was a little put off by my comments, saying the limes are cut daily and that she could get me better lime. But, she got me two $4.00 grilled shrimp as a little protein buffer in my belly before I ended up under the table. She also admonished me that I should have got the smaller portion (a glass) since I wasn't going to be finishing what I ordered.
The balance of tart and sweet was great and there wasn't any of the staleness that sometimes happens with mixes. Hacienda offers premium margaritas (Arriba!) with your choice of 25 call tequilas and 3 citrus liquors. My server informed me that they don't use mixes for those.
Next stop was Chili's on US31. The bartender was taking my order before I had a seat. This is an advantage to mid afternoon tippling. My first thought was,"Is this the color of antifreeze?" The flat and fake taste of the margarita mix was off-putting and even though the tequila was added before my very eyes, it wasn't a flavor I could detect. It was nice that the drink passed briefly under mixing impeller before being poured over a mug of ice and that the mug looked to be 20-22 ounce. For $4.99, it seemed watery. This is a little less than I expected from a chain that specializes in Texas Chili.
Service was attentive and the bartender informed me that the best tasting and biggest selling margarita was their "Presidente Margarita" that comes in a shaker that you can purchase afterwards. The lime was generous, a little oxidized and wax-coated, but squeezing it into the margarita helped doctor the flavor. Surprising, the drink wasn't sticky when spilled.
I also enjoyed the southwest eggrolls (not your traditional eggroll) and found that the spiciness of the appetizer enhanced the flavor of the Margarita as well.
Third on my quest was a 4 pm trip across to Don Pancho Villa's on Dixon Road south of Markland. After noticing that they offered $1.99 margaritas (12 oz) Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 pm, I beelined it to the cozy bar in the back. I was finally making it my mission to taste like a trooper. Happy hour or not, I was the lone person in the bar. Only three other tables in the dining side were occupied and no one was having a margarita. Uh Oh, what was I going to get?
The results were just fine. The margarita was served warm, but over ice, so a little stirring was necessary. Even though it was a generous pour of Cuervo Gold, I didn't think it packed a tequila flavor punch as strong as Hacienda's did. The garnish was fresh. I even commented in my notes that it was too bad I couldn't drink the whole thing and stay the evening. I wonder if that was the cumulative effect of tasting for two hours. I was feeling a little flushed and ordered some choriqueso dip to help me maintain my wits. If I could have had them package the drink in a doggie-cup, I would have. Even so, I noted that it had that fake-lime flavor of sno-cones and Popsicles. This is definitely the place to go for inexpensive food and drink even though the restaurant gets loud when crowded.
Disappointed because I hadn't found any outstanding specimens, I did a little reconnaissance by consulting with a few experts. Uniformly I heard that the only great margaritas in Kokomo were made in private homes. And I noticed I wasn't invited.
I stopped by Soupleys to get bottled margaritas, thinking that some of these would be better than restaurant quality. Just add ice and shake. After urging the sales clerks, I was informed that Applebees and Outback had great margaritas, too. Well, 5 times out of 5 visits, Applebees has failed to actually bring the correct order to my table so I have never returned. Great margarita or not, I will not abide appalling service. So off I ventured to Outback before the place filled up.
When I arrived the bar was empty and the bartender took my order after I explained my mission of city-wide margarita tasting. Although I was encouraged to try a premium margarita, I continued on my mission for the house drink on the rocks with salt. This is called the Gold Coast Rita $5.75 and the biggest seller followed closely by the Top Shelf Patron margarita for $8.50.
The first thought was best garnish award. A generous 1/8 of a lime that was by far the freshest and cleanest. A little sweet for my taste, but the flavor was improved by shaker-induced aeration. I wish the bartender hadn't floated mix on the top of the glass, but with these beautiful oversize hand blown glasses, who can estimate their capacity?
The tequila was very subtle when tasted, but was more apparent on the exhale. I squeezed the lime and that brought up the lime flavor to an appropriate level. Another Cuervo Gold margarita gets abandoned on the bar just as the place starts filling up. On a stranger's advice, I was directed to include one final destination.
My last margarita was in an unusual and unexpected location. Olive Garden offers a couple of margaritas including their Italian Margarita (their regular margarita with a dainty shot of Amaretto DiSaronno on the side for an extra 40 cents). Woo Hoo, I can fulfill my obligation of one more tasting and also have a premium option just for me?
My first thought was, "Ooooh, yummy!" And I wasn't disappointed. This is not a traditional margarita and it is unfair for me to compare the others to this, but since it was so tasty and refreshing, I feel I must include it. It was well balanced, a tiny bit more sweet than I prefer, but the best margarita of the evening. The subtle scent and flavor of oranges is traditionally Italian, even though many Americans are unaware of that.
I am not an amaretto fan, but I was surprised at the sensation that occurs when alternating sips of margarita and amaretto.
Bummer that I had to abandon this drink, too, when I added the amaretto into the glass. It made the drink cloyingly sweet and detracted from its refreshing quality. It's a large drink for $5.95 (plus 40 cents) and I would be curious to find out what food it pairs well with.
Okay, I got home with a few minutes to spare and zero desire for those prepared margaritas from the liquor store. Maybe later.