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True Margarita Maestros: Granite Bay, Roseville area a hot spot for Cinco de Mayo drinks

May 5 holiday has plenty of margarita masters ready to pour
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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Tequila. It’s the ageless elixir of agave, warming spirits since the days when Aztecs fermented Pulque sap and Spanish conquistadors brewed Mezcal in dried pyramids of mud. Wrung from spiky, prehistoric-looking vegetation, tequila has been a southwestern blessing — mystery and desert fortitude in a glass.

There are countless legends around how the modern margarita was born. Some claim it was created on a blistering day in Ensenada to impress an ambassador’s daughter. Others swear it was first mixed in a hotel outside Rosarito to captivate a dancing beauty. Divergent myth holds the cocktail was a tribute to the 1940s jazz singer Peggy Lee, who caught the eye of a Mexican-American bartender on the border town of Galveston. Perhaps the strangest tale around the rise of the margarita involves a hard-drinking, exiled Irishman living in Tijuana during U.S. Prohibition.

Whichever history is true, tequila continues to be considered a candy-touched shot of gold, a true treasure of the Sierra Madre and the liquid heart of the margarita’s cascading freshness. In the Granite Bay area, a handful of bartenders are veteran masters of Margaritaville.   

Cabos in Granite Bay

Cabos is a classic hideaway by the lake, made even more transporting by its Hacienda façade, straw cantina top and the piercing Pacific blue colors in its dining room. Storm shutters and a fishing boat suspended from the ceiling enhance the escapism: From wooden parrots to Nuevo Mayan art, this well-established restaurant has all of the little touches for a perfect sunset of margarita drinking.

The shelves at Cabos’ bar are stocked with tequila options — Don Julio, Lunazol, Tres, Cazadores —and each is ready to be infused into a slushy, citrus-popping margarita. The Cabos house blend is made with Suaza Giro Tequila, which brings out smooth, sour touches and a lime-bright sweetness.

Flavored margaritas are also a mainstay at Cabos, served in peach, strawberry and melon incarnations. The peach selection has gained notoriety for its sugarcane sleekness and the crisp, cooling effect it has against Cabos’ popping salsa: As with all of the house specials, the peach essence is lightly accented by an edge from the Suaza Giro. Cabos’ strawberry margarita is another hit, as its smoothly acidic undertones pull out the berry taste with a biting, honey-sweet finish.

But for fans of the traditional margarita, the fruit flavors can be set aside for Cabos’ authentic specialty, the Margarita Perfecta. Blasted with Suaza Hornitos Anejo Tequila, this mix is gliding citrus satin in a glass, bolstered by calm sour clicks and a dash of salt accents. It’s the margarita that can instantly transport one south of the border.    

El Pueblo in Folsom, near the Granite Bay border

Bartender Danny Burlando has a genuine appreciation for artisan, hand-crafted margaritas. Located just three miles from Folsom Lake, El Pueblo has established a following around splashy and vibrant dishes that include Chili relleno, tomato salad with cilantro pesto and grilled corn with chipotle aioli, dusted in cotija cheese. But it’s also pulled in a legion of fans by offering a sinful take on Mexican cocktails. Each exclusive drink at El Pueblo has its own intention and character. Foodies can start a wet tour of the menu with the Famous House Margarita – a serene swirl of pulsing lime and orange flavors, alive with Suaza Blue tequila, balanced Reposado and phantom touches of bitterness.

One of the more unique offerings at El Pueblo is the La Dona Margarita, known for its tart burst, ultra-fresh juices and perfect use of El Tesoro Platinum. The cantina has another specialty classic with the La Paloma Margarita: The mix uses ruby red grapefruit as it main ingredient. The Tamaulipas region of Mexico has some of the best grapefruit-growing farms in the world, and Burlando’s La Paloma can be seen as a tribute to that, swirling a Caribbean fruit centrifuge with the award-winning character of El Tesoro tequila. Everyone at El Pueblo also makes sure this particular flavor medley is served with a rim of rock salt the glass’s lip.

Burlando and his team have also proven they can push the envelope of creativity, elevating the idea behind the margarita to something a little more cutting, like the bar’s mango and chili martini with a spicy rim on the glass.

El Sombrero Taqueria in Granite Bay

Known for its festive atmosphere and high-end spices, Granite Bay’s El Sombrero is an old fashioned California taqueria – fun, laidback, bustling with laughter on lazy afternoon. Portraits of everyone from Pancho Villa to Sean Connery stare from under tropical Corona signs on strings. El Sombrero’s success is built on flavorful staples from Michoacán, with fat, juice-laden burritos and quesadillas that are a siesta waiting to happen. However, last year the longtime business added a modest corner cantina, bolstering its beer selections of Dos Equis, Tecate and Negra Modelo with its own an increasingly popular take on the margarita.

The base of El Sombrero’s margaritas is not actually tequila, but pure golden agave wine by La Quiere De Oro. With the same plant-nectar as any margarita, the agave wine makes the mix only slightly less alcoholic while maintaining all of the tried-and-true touches of the marquee drink. For El Sombrero, the result has been a direct sip of summertime, enhanced by glowing flavors in the ice and the nip of heavy lime drops.    

“A lot of people try them and say they cant’ tell any difference at all from a classic margarita,” said El Sombrero’s owner Ageo Sanchez. “We always tell people try a little of it on us, and tell us what you think. They always end up liking this take on the margarita.”

Sanchez added, “We’ve been here 12 years, but we only expanded with the bar last year: It’s really allowed people to stay longer, relax, enjoy the games and have fun. It’s so much more social now.” 

Scott Thomas Anderson can be reached at standerson1@live.com. Follow him on Twitter at STA_reporter or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/STAndersonJournalist