How to Navigate a Tequila Menu
Blanco, reposado, añejo — navigating lengthy and well curated tequila menu can be just as daunting as a serious wine list.
Which are best for shooting and which are better suited to sipping? How to know what will pair best with that earthy mushroom quesadilla or a plate of smoky chicken mole? We turned to an expert for advice: Alex Alejandro of El Parador Café. In addition to being New York City's oldest Mexican restaurant — and home to the "perfect" margarita — it also boasts an extensive collection of tequilas and mezcals (about 100 different selections in total).
Alex shares his advice below and offers suggestions for ideal food pairings.
Talk to Your Server
Just as you would ask a restaurant's sommelier for a wine recommendation, Alex says that asking your server for a suggestion is a great place to start. He notes that an experienced bartender with a solid knowledge of the spirit should easily be able to name a couple that would be best for you to try.
What Are You Going to Do With It?
Arguably the most important question to keep in mind when selecting from a tequila menu. Are you going to simply shoot it or are you more in the mood for a margarita? If it's the latter, Alex recommends opting for a blanco. "It would be a waste of good tequila to use a reposado," he says. If you're just looking to have some shots alongside a couple beers, he suggests a brand like Chinaco — "you want something smoother, with more flavor; smooth is key, and you don't need the salt and the limes." How about tequila as an apéritif? He notes that the longer aged añejos are wonderful to enjoy in a snifter as an after-dinner drink.
Try Something Different
Everyone plays favorites, of course. But Alex advises that it's worthwhile to switch things up every so often to experience something different — maybe discover a new favorite in the process. For example, he suggests trying a mezcal on the rocks with a piece of lime ("the acid brings the flavor out"). Oh, and other important piece of advice: "Don't take chilled shots. What's the purpose? You're not going to taste a thing."
Advice on Food Pairings
Blancos: With these (the one made by 7 Leguas is a favorite) he suggests a ceviche. "You want to eat something with acid to offer both a little bit contrast and play with the tequila." Another idea? Chase the tequila with a small glass of Sangrita, a spicy, peppery drink that typically accompanies a shot of blanco.
Reposados: These tequilas are aged up to six months in used oak barrels — he singles out the "surprisingly good," celebrity-owned Cabo Wabo (made slightly sweeter for a younger audience), and the Tequila Ocho (one of his favorites). With them he pairs a mushroom quesadilla. "The smoky, woody notes play right along and the fattiness of the cheese cuts through the alcohol."
Añejos: For this variety of tequila (aged up to one year) he recommends a mole poblano which has the right combination of spices and chiles to match the spirit's complex flavors.
Mezcals: Because of its assertive, smoky characteristics, Alex notes that "once you drink this, you can't drink anything else." Basically, its dominant flavors are a tough act to follow. He believes this handcrafted product should be drank neat or on the rocks, and paired it with the restaurant's signature peanut butter-stuffed roasted jalapeños (way better than it sounds). The recipe is a family secret, but the takeaway here is that the fattiness of the peanut butter and lingering heat of the pepper worked as a nice complement to the mezcal's strong, smoky flavor.