Best Cocktail Using Mescal 2016 | Oaxaqueno Margarita | Food & Drink | Phoenix

There were so many cocktails across the Valley to choose from — mezcal, Jalisco's state spirit, being the hottest thing show up since tequila — but the obvious pick may be the simplest, the one that shows off the spirit in bare-bones fashion, the Oaxaqueño margarita at Barrio Urbano. Nothing too flashy here — just a rim of sal de gusano (a classic Mexican ingredient; that's salt ground down with dried worm, for the record) which adds a great savory quality to the drink that's already so smoky. It's an in-your-face, wonderful take on a classic margarita.

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The guys over at the ever-changing Counter Intuitive got crazy with their Agua Caliente Racetrack menu, blending all sorts of chili peppers and spices into drinks anchored by a plethora of agave spirits and fresh juices — which leads to a lot of flavor. Case in point: the Gallant Sir, which is rooted with earthy and rustic bacanora, the state spirit of Sonora, and thrown for a loop with a supporting cast of amaro, scotch, cantaloupe, and muddled Fresno chilies. The cocktail is brash, requiring some bravery. But the reward is stellar drinking with a real sense of place here in the Sonoran Desert.

Heather Hoch

The Sotol Tale calls for what Bitter & Twisted proprietor Ross Simon describes as a "cheeky amount of sotol," Chihuahua's state spirit. Dusty-tasting and a bit herbal, it pairs nicely with Bitter & Twisted's house blend of sweet vermouth, Maraschino liqueur, and bitters. The end result? A dusty Martinez, if you will, as opposed to the classic Dirty Martinez cocktail, somewhere in between the negroni and the manhattan. This classic is a spin, reborn with Northeastern Mexican flare — it's worth the whirl — and is light enough to be the first drink of the night but boozy enough to be the last (unless you want a second — we'd totally understand).

If you willfully block out about 90 percent of the menu at Los Reyes De La Tortas — the part with all the griddled tortas, quesadillas, and pork-chop-stuffed "super tacos" — you could almost make the argument that this local Mexico City-styled chain is a bona fide health-food destination. That's because the restaurant offers a sprawling menu of aguas frescas naturales — fresh fruit drinks made with real fruit, ice, and then lightly sweetened with sugar. The drink menu boasts an impressive selection, including standards like pineapple and limón, along with harder-to-find aguas frescas like papaya, mango, and watermelon. The restaurant also whips up novelty healthy drinks like the vampiro, which is made with orange juice, carrots, celery, and beets. No plastic foam here: Your smoothie comes in a chilled glass, with a cheery little paper umbrella.

Neighborhood restaurants are found all over this big sprawling place we call home, many of which have unbelievable specials. On Wednesdays, Las Glorias Grill has $1.99 margaritas that are out of this world, and provide more bang for the buck than they probably should for the price as the house tequila, Zarco, is pretty much the bomb diggity. Salt or not, on the rocks or blended, you can't go wrong with this sweet and tangy margarita. Trade a picture of Thomas Jefferson for one today (as long as it is legal tender, of course) while you munch on Las Glorias' delicious food. We recommend the fish tacos on Taco Thursday. Muy delicioso.

Mediocre horchatas can be found in every corner of metro Phoenix. It only takes one long pull of one of these chalky, cloyingly sweet horchatas — made from the powder stuff, no doubt — to experience a serious case of buyer's remorse. It doesn't have to be this way, though, as is proven by the fresh-made horchata at Presidio Cocina Mexicana in central Phoenix. The Presidio horchata is made tres leches-style — that is, it's made using three milks — and this imbues every cool, tall glass with a rich, frothy sweetness. It's an unmistakably fresh horchata that will help you forget all those bad horchatas in your immediate past.

Tirion Boan

The predominantly pedestrian paloma clocks in at a whopping two ingredients: grapefruit soda and tequila — so it's no wonder that cocktail drinkers tend not to over-think it, if they think of it at all. That is, until recently — all of a sudden, agave spirits are in vogue again, some types for the very first time, and so the elevation of every tequila cocktail, no matter how regal or utilitarian, is well underway. The drink gets a beautiful makeover from The Brickyard, where they infuse a tart, house-made grapefruit shrub with Fresno chilies, throw in some fizzy soda, and rim the glass with a hot and sweet chili flake, sugar, and salt rim that renders this final drink with a profile reminiscent of Mexican candy — that is, with a kick.

Over in uptown Phoenix at The Yard, Barrio Urbano seemingly has more agave spirits than are possible to move off the shelves, but it's a challenge they accept on a daily basis. Variety is king, from classic aged and un-aged tequilas, to smokier Oaxaca mezcals — and further down the rabbit hole they go, too, with lesser-known regional spirits, like earthy and herbaceous sotol from Chihuahua and the robust Sonoran spirit, bacanora. So when it gets down to the margarita or neat spirits alike, there's plenty to dive into, especially at their daily happy hour, where every spirit here is half-price — an insane value.

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