Lovely Rita

Just in time for Cinco de Mayo: a savory twist on a Mexican American classic.

By Jessica Voelker April 16, 2010 Published in the May 2010 issue of Seattle Met

¡Que bonitas! La Casa Azul’s festive margs—strawberry, avocado, and original.

HIDDEN IN A HO-HUM North Seattle strip mall, La Casa Azul restaurant ( turns out Oaxacan dishes so authentic they can’t even be made in country. Or shouldn’t, at least, if you ask part-owner Armando Rizo. The fragrant mole sauces that blanket his pork ribs and enchiladas arrive via FedEx every three days; Rizo says there’s just no way to approximate those deep, dark, scorched-and-spiced flavors without access to the exact ingredients from Oaxaca. “Some people around here try…” he says, trailing off. Rizo isn’t mentioning any names.

Less rigorously Oaxacan are Casa Azul’s mixed-drink recipes. The restaurant is well known in the neighborhood for its sweet Spanish-style sangria, as well as its margaritas, with which Rizo and his partner Isaac Jimenez like to experiment. They have a house margarita and a strawberry ’rita on the menu, but customers in the know opt for variations made with avocado, tamarind, and cilantro.

Most experts agree that the margarita is probably not a Mexican invention. Cocktail historian David Wondrich considers it a variation on the Sidecar, made with brandy, orange liqueur, and lemon juice and served in a cocktail glass with a sugared rim. In a margarita, tequila takes the place of brandy, the acid comes from lime not lemon, and the rim of the glass gets a salt glaze. Notably, it’s the same combination of flavors in a north-of-the-border tequila shooter. (Mexicans tend to drink tequila on its own.)

On a recent sunny afternoon, Jimenez made an avocado marg—a surprisingly mellow mixture with a creamy consis-tency—pureeing a quarter of a large avocado in a blender. This he added to his house margarita mixture: a shot of tequila (Jose Cuervo is the default, though you can upgrade to the infinitely superior Sauza Hornitos), a few squirts of one-to-one simple syrup, a shot of triple sec, the juice of two limes, and a splash of Grand Marnier. Jimenez shook the ingredients together and poured them into a salt-rimmed pint glass filled with ice. “Es mucho,” Rizo said, raising his eyebrows as his partner poured in the lime juice. Jimenez shook his head no, but it was true. The drink was citrus dominant, the avocado flavors not nearly as evident as you might imagine, and nearly undetectable at the finish.

Still, it was deliciously drinkable, fresh as a cold soup and boozy to boot. You can see why Casa Azul regulars order avocado margs by the pitcher. Jimenez makes his pinkish-red strawberry ’ritas in a similar fashion, blending up a handful of berries, (frozen or fresh, depending on the season), then stirring them into a basic margarita.

On Cinco de Mayo, a lot of Americans, Mexican and otherwise, will celebrate with a round of margaritas. The holiday is barely noticed in Rizo’s native Oaxaca, but here it is a day for toasting the traditions born from the Mexican American cultural fusion. The latest of those, it seems, is the avocado margarita.

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