The Great Torontoist Challenge: Margarita Edition

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The Great Torontoist Challenge: Margarita Edition

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Photo by Darcie.
We blew out our flip flops. Stepped on a pop top. Cut our heels; had to cruise on back home. But there’s booze in the blender, and soon it will render, that frozen concoction that helps us hang on.
Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville, searchin’ for our lost shaker of salt. Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame, but Torontoist knows (doo doo do do doo), it’s our own damn fault.

The Contestants

  • Hernando’s Hideaway. With two locations, both of which appear to be in rather sinister-looking basements, and a 20-year history, Hernando’s claims to be the first restaurant to bring California-style Mexican food to Toronto. They also, it should be noted, claim to have the best margaritas. How appropriate.
  • Margarita’s Fiesta Room. Hidden away on fabulous Baldwin Street, Margarita’s boasts two patios with a high leafery quotient in the summer months and an indoor environment that belies its history as a Victorian house. Unless your idea of a typical Victorian house is one that is full of sombreros and ponchos. In which case, my friend, have we found the house for you.
  • Tortilla Flats. Having moved to its current location in 2005, Tortilla Flats has remained bright, loud, and all things Tex-Mex. Though not relevant to the challenge, we’d like to note that it also has one of the most obnoxious websites we have ever had to navigate.
  • La Hacienda. Established in the summer of 1985 on Queen Street West, La Hacienda endeavours to offer up fresh Tex-Mex food to the bohemian set. They also have an intimate backyard terrace, which always scores points in our books.

The Criteria

  • Presentation. The classic glass or in a hobo jar? Good colour? All-over tantalizing look?
  • Ingredients. Good level of salt, fruit accoutrements (lime, lemon, or whatever is contextually appropriate), made with a mix or real fruit?
  • Flavour. Taste like real fruit or more artificial? Is it too sweet or too tart?
  • Consistency. If frozen, is it well mixed or seperating? Are you left with a large chunk of ice at the bottom? If on the rocks, is it obviously well shaken?
  • Imbibometer. Enough tequila? So much that consuming one leaves you floored? Too boozy-tasting?

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Photo of Tortilla Flats original location by distobj; photo of margaritas at Tortilla Flats by Julie Reitsma.

Additional Criteria

It can be difficult to rank the cost of margaritas, because different places have different ideas of how much booze makes a single versus a double. So, we’ll just tell you what the costs were that we encountered and you can decide for yourself.
La Hacienda ($6.80 for a double); Margarita’s ($6.95); Hernando’s Hideaway ($5.99 for a single and $8.99 for a double); Tortilla Flats ($6.20 for a single and $9.70 for a double).

Results

  • Presentation. TIE: Hernando’s and Margarita’s—12/15. While Hernando’s was not in the traditional margarita glass, the larger tumbler gave us more bang for our buck and the contents were foamy and a lovely colour. Margarita’s, on the other hand, came closer to tradition with a fish bowl-esque goblet that Torontoist was instantly fond of.
  • Ingredients. Hacienda—12/15. With a nice green lime, a good level of salt, and lime juice that actually came from a lime, this margarita kept it real with not a droplet of mix in sight.
  • Flavour. Hernando’s—13.5/15. Super yummy deliciousness.
  • Consistency. Margarita’s—15/15. From top to bottom, this frozen margarita was consistent in its consistency. Score!
  • Imbibometer. Hernando’s—15/15. While the first sip generated a bit of a “hoowah” in one of our judges, the rest was smooth like silk. Tequila!

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Photo of La Hacienda exterior by Kevin Steele; photo of margarita at La Hacienda by Julie Reitsma.

Conclusions

Wow. Tortilla Flats makes a really bad margarita. Let’s start with the price, shall we? Already dear for what you get, 1 ounce of tequila for a single, it will cost you more—45 cents to be exact—if you decide to go for the frozen version. We’re not sure why this is, but we can only assume it’s due to the high costs involved with ice production. The margarita itself, once it arrived at the judging table, was bright yellow in colour, à la Neo-Citran, and adorned with a fresh brown-skinned lime. True to its appearance, this margarita tastes medicinal, all the while managing to be both too sweet and too tart. While initially the consistency was a redeeming factor, we were soon left with large ice chunks and had made it nowhere near to the bottom of the glass. Considering the name of the place, Tortilla Flats seem to possess a remarkable lack of pride in their margaritas. There was no discernible alcohol content, our tongues were left powdery, and one judge, a self-proclaimed margarita afficianado, barely got through a quarter of the drink before giving up and switching to water.
La Hacienda, with a score 25 percentage points higher than our loser, slides into the third place slot. Of our contestants, La Hacienda are the purists. While some margarita vendors claim to be the real thing, La Hacienda’s offering, without question, consisted of only those three blessed ingredients—lime, tequila, and Triple Sec. What fell short was that there was nothing stand-out about it. Appearance-wise it could have benefited from a bit more shaking, and though there was enough salt, it wasn’t the nice sun-dried flakes we had wished for. While we know the traditionalists will be out with their pitchforks for our saying it, it maybe could have also used just a touch of simple syrup for some flavour. On a whole this is a good margarita and it has enough alcohol in it that it packs a definite punch; it’s just not the best we had.
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Photo of Margarita’s Fiesta Room exterior by Jenilynn; photo of margaritas at Margarita’s Fiesta Room by Julie Reitsma.
When we received our round of perfectly blended frozen margaritas at the aptly named Margarita’s, two of our judges found that their goblets contained barely any alcohol. While this meant a less than perfect score on the imbibometer, the lovely staff worked quickly to make the situation right by free pouring tequila—and we’re talking a more than necessary amount—in each of our glasses. Herein lies the issue with Margarita’s. If we had taken the margaritas for what they were when offered, they did not contain enough alcohol and were a tad artificially sweet. That being said, you free pour tequila for not only the two judges who were in need, but also another judge whose drink was already tequila’d to sufficient levels, and then top that off with complimentary nachos, well dear readers, we were nearly convinced. The atmosphere at Margarita’s is warm, friendly, knick-knack filled, and we can only imagine that in the summer months it would be an absolute delight. Unfortunately, if we are to stay true to our criteria and refuse to be swayed by freebies, we simply can’t give Margarita’s top marks.
With the perfect amount of ice, a pleasant foaminess and, for once, actual rock salt, Hernando’s takes the top prize in this challenge. Sure, the basement, or “hideaway,” setting isn’t exactly the same as sitting under a palm in Acapulco, but it’s completely passable, and the drink itself may just transport you. Hernando’s margarita is made with attention to detail—there’s no mix involved and the levels of alcohol, while on the strong side, are just right for the occasion. While the lack of the classic margarita glass was a bit disappointing to our sense of cliché, and it did get a wee bit tart towards the end, the whole experience was limey, tequila-topped foam-tasticness. The only thing we would have changed, other than the obvious fact that we were not in Mexico and a blizzard was raging outside, was that we could have stayed for a second.
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Photo of Hernando’s Hideaway exterior by forester401; photo of margarita at Hernando’s Hideaway by Julie Reitsma.

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