When we travel to Mexico, we’re pretty focused on the food, but it’s the art, the people, and the electric culture that remind us we’re not in the Northeast anymore. This is Mexico and we’re always glad to be back. Our yearly pilgrimages back to the country that originally inspired us in 1985 to open the first Margaritas, continue to inspire us year after year. From distilleries in Tequila (the town) to street tacos outside El Parian in Guadalajara to fresh Zarapes from a roadside stand on the mountain roads, we have found an endless array of spice, flavor and ethnic culinary perfection that always beckons us back. We have been invited into the homes of artists and their families as guests and shared meals, stories and traditions with them in traditional Mexican villages. We’ve traveled through the windy mountain roads that lead to the West Coast to eat fish tacos at spots where you could still see the crashing waves.
It’s always a deliciously inspiring trip. Here is a compilation of our top culinary highlights and favorite Mexican cities should you decide to take a trip and discover Mexico for yourself.
Queso Fundito and Fresh Guacamole in Guadalajara
The state of Guadalajara is always one of our first stops when we visit Mexico. Here, we are treated to lavish dinners from the local artists families and are reminded of what makes this town and country so special – its sense of community, celebration and love of food. Here. we are always served the freshest homemade guacamole with made from scratch tortillas – a simple combination that leaves us wondering if guac and tortillas are really all we ever need. Maybe we will stay in Guadalajara indefinitely, indulging in the green goodness and flaky tortillas this artsy community produces. But just as we are getting lost in avocado daydreams someone mentions Queso Fundito, a skillet of melted cheese, tomatillo sauce, salsa fresca and chipotle seasoning. And just like that we are off to seek out or next meal. The first time we tried Queso Fundito, was at a small restaurant called Casa Fuerte. Served steaming hot in lava molcajetes, this cheesy slice of Mexican heaven can be heard before it’s even tasted, sizzling in the kitchen as it is prepared. If you’re traveling to Mexico and plan to make a stop in Guadalajara, make sure you fit in a visit to Casa Fuerte for their Queso Fundito. Or if a Mexico trip isn’t in your near future, we do a pretty good replication of Casa Fuerte’s famous dish here at Margaritas. After all, Casa Fuerte was where we drew our inspiration for the dish in the first place and the reason we added it to our menu.
Our visits to Guadaljara have not only inspired many of our dishes, but also the look and feel of many of our restaurants. The restaurant Santo Coyote was one of our main points of inspiration. Deep hues of red, orange and clay accented by green agaves and authentic wall murals all lit up by the flaming yellow candles and bamboo lanterns made for a spectacular setting to enjoy authentic Mexican cuisine and the local artistic culture. We were inspired by the decoration, design and mood that was created by it all and have attempted to bring that same feeling of vibrancy and celebration back to our own Margarita restaurants.
Street Tacos and Zarapes Outside El Parian
Who doesn’t love a late night snack? Or a cheap but delicious meal of Zarapes served up fast and fresh at a Mexican roadside stand? It was in El Parian that we discovered this, the true taste of Mexico, bare boned and authentic, not to mention delicious.
In El Parian, restaurants line the walkways and surround a large open space where dancing, concerts and various shows take place. It is the cultural and dining mecca of the city. Crowds and tourists make their way to El Parian to experience this culture and take in the variety of flavors offered up from the many restaurants lining the streets. And while El Parian has hundreds of different menus and dishes to choose from, it was at a little cart, just outside of the city center that we found the hidden gem: Taco Charleys. Taco Charleys, a modest food cart catering to the crowds of El Parian served by our amigo Charley himself, proved what we already suspected to be true: some of the best things come from the least expected places. Taco Charleys was cheap, fast and brimming with tacos that we just couldn’t get enough of. We knew right then and there what our new menu item would be: street tacos inspired by Taco Charleys and replicated to give the full feeling and taste of Mexico. Just like Taco Charleys, our street tacos at Margaritas are three doubled white corn tortillas filled with your choice of pork, carnitas with salsa fresca, braised beef with onion and cilantro, or grilled chicken with salsa fresca all served with picante and hacienda sauces.
And while we cant remember exactly when, it was on one of our many reoccurring trips to El Parian to visit Taco Charleys that we came across a small roadside stand serving up fresh, steaming hot Zarapes with braised beef, grilled onions, peppers and cheese all wrapped up in a flour tortilla and served with sour cream. Just like that Zarapes were added to the Margaritas menu.
Tequila and Palomas in Tequila
A drive through the mountains, about 60 miles from Guadalajara will land you in a town named Tequila, which is, no surprise here, thebirthplace of Tequila. And if you have seen the Margaritas drink list – with over 20 different margaritas – you know how fond we are of this delicious drink. One of our other favorite beverages when we are in town is the Palomas – a tequila based cocktail mixed with grapefruit flavored soda and served on the rocks – for those days when a shot of Tequila is just too strong.
Tequila came to be thanks to the blue agave plant which is native to his area. Originally, the plant was used to create a fermented drink from the sugars found in its heart. Later, however, after the arrival of the Spanish, the drink was distilled; creating the Tequila we all know and love today.
So, whenever we visit Mexico we make it a point to visit Tequila, the town of the blue agave, that makes our beloved namesake, the margarita, possible.
Fish Tacos, Crunchy Slaw and Mojitos in Puerta Vallarta
In Puerta Vallerta, there’s nothing better than sipping mojitos and eating authentic Mexican grub while watching the waves roll in on this south of the border resort town. Puerta Vallerta is on Mexico’s Pacific coast and brims with beautiful beaches, restaurants, shops and art. It was here, in this idyllic city that we discovered the secret to a perfect fish taco: crunchy slaw and a special sauce. We came home inspired and created our own original fish tacos – tortilla encrusted fish, roasted corn salsa, shredded red cabbage and chipotle aioli on white corn tortillas. But Puerta Vallarta didn’t stop there! It was a Cuban restaurant called La Bodeguita Del Medio on the waterfront esplanade in PV where we discovered the perfect combination of mint, rum and freshly squeezed lime. From La Bodeguita our mojito inspiration was born.
From our Fish Tacos to Zarapes to salsas and sauces, the majority of our menu at Margaritas has been inspired from the foods and flavors we have discovered while visiting Mexico. Many of our cooks have even studied in Mexico City with esteemed local chefs and our restaurant designs have been created to mirror the art and vibrant feeling of our favorite authentic Mexican restaurants. So if you are able to get to Mexico and discover their culture first hand, remember to check out some of our favorite spots for some of the best south of the border flavors. But if you can’t just jet off to the beaches of Puerta Vallerta to drink mojitos and dine on fish tacos with your toes in the sand, come on down to Margaritas. With a margarita in your hand, a full menu of Mexican inspired dishes and a vibrant colorful atmosphere, you’ll almost feel like you are really south of the border.