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Drink Wed May 26 2010

The Happy Margarita Summer Project 2010, Round 1: El Tapatio

In case you missed my announcement earlier this week, my friend Claire and I are taking on the challenge of searching out Chicago's best margaritas. It's going to be a rough (and by rough I mean fantastic) summer.

El Tapatio, 3400 N. Ashland (at Roscoe Street), is so well-liked that the owners situated a bar across the street to satiate the many would-be diners waiting for a table. I've eaten at El Tapatio many times, and I can attest the food is better than average. The a la carte chicken taco, with a healthy portion of perfectly seasoned, cooked and shredded chicken, plus lettuce, tomato, onion and a side of guacamole, was the perfect snack to accompany my margaritas.

Per our rules, we each ordered the standard margarita first, on the rocks with salt. It arrived in style in a lovely hand-blown glass with multi-colored swirls. The salt was a bit unevenly distributed on the rim, but I'm not going to quibble; overall, the presentation was lovely.

Now, El Tapatio's standard margarita is a mix; fresh lime would improve the balance of flavors. The drink earned points for packing a punch: After one $7 goblet, we weren't sure we could handle a second. (Give us a break, eh? This was our first outing of the season. Plus, we threw caution to the wind and ordered a second. You know why? Because we're doing this for you, people. You're welcome.)

We both ordered frozen flavored margaritas as our second choice. Claire chose strawberry, and I went with mango (which is on the menu as mango-tamarind, but they were out of tamarind that day.) Mine was everything a frozen flavored margarita should be: perfectly slushy, not at all watery, yet not too thick or icy so as to impede drinking, and chock full of chunks of real mango without being overly sugary. In strange contrast, Claire's strawberry was a bit thin and cloyingly sweet, with no signs of real fruit.

El Tapatio's mango margarita could be a real contender in the Best Flavored category. But here's where we went awry: We didn't order the Rolls Royce Margarita. We visited on Saturday -- before several people (including Rolls Royce Pro, who tried to steer me right with his or her comment on this site) urged us to sample El Tapatio's deluxe margarita. If I had known then what I know now, I may have chosen differently ... but then again, I wouldn't have tried the delicious mango margarita.

Here's my pledge: Before summer's end, we'll revisit El Tapatio to take the Rolls Royce for a test drive. At nearly $14, it's pricey, due to its premium ingredients. So we'll judge it in the Artisanal category, where I think it belongs.

So, readers, El Tapatio was our first outing, but it's far from our last. We've got about a dozen restaurants in mind, including next week's visit to Paul Kahan's Wicker Park outpost, Big Star. What else is not to be missed? You tell us.

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The 100 Bar Project / May 27, 2010 5:57 AM

Love the concept, and the perfect summer "diet" guacamole and margaritas. We'll enjoy following you ..Check out Las Mananitas in Boystown, those margaritas are good but very strong...

Mandy / May 27, 2010 10:10 AM

Las Mananitas is definitely on the list. Anywhere else you'd suggest?

R / May 27, 2010 1:33 PM

Cesars at Belmont/Clark--home of the killer margarita!

My sister recommends the Northside, Las Palmas, and Frontera.

k / May 27, 2010 2:48 PM

zocalo serves margaritas made with strawberry-infused tequila, yum.

Jen / June 2, 2010 4:21 PM

Salud Tequila Lounge. One of the only places around that actually uses fresh ingredients and has some innovative combinations. The margariat with elderflower is amazing. As much as I love Tapatio for food, anyone who uses a mix should be crossed off the list.

min. / June 25, 2010 5:59 PM

So glad to hear Las MaƱanitas is on the list. That's far & away my favorite in the city. On the rocks, w/salt & a premium tequila. They get even better w/some Grand Marnier involved. I'm betting on MaƱanitas to win the project.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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