By Jennifer Uhl
It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy, particularly if you have an ice-cold drink in hand. A good splash of tequila doesn’t hurt, either, as these four southside margaritas prove. They’re about as different as a drink with the same base can get — one includes champagne, another comes with a sidecar bottle of beer — but each is the ideal companion to any meal, south of the border or not.
Mexican ’84 at La Margarita
1043 Virginia Ave., Indianapolis, lamargaritaindy.com
Entering La Margarita feels a little like something out of a Lewis Carroll novel. The solid tangerine-colored door 10 feet inside the entryway of the old G.C. Murphy Co. building could lead to any number of spaces. The only thing pressing you onward is the restaurant name printed in small caps on the outside, like an afterthought, as though other first-timers also knocked, just to make sure they weren’t intruding. But once inside, La Margarita feels like the homey Mexican hotspot that it is, with plenty of top-shelf refreshments that could easily include a coercive “Drink Me” tag.
The family-owned restaurant is celebrating its 30th year, which includes a storied history in Speedway, two moves on the northside and now five years in the heart of Fountain Square. The drink menu boasts “enough agave to be its own liquor store,” with artisanal beers on tap and thoughtful cocktails to accompany veteran chef Emilio Montes’ chipotle chicken, vegan-optional tacos and locally renowned carnitas. Our favorite partner to these plates or a sizzling skillet of fajita meat is the Mexican ’84, which bar manager Kayla Pappas describes as a “mom cocktail” because of its elegant presentation. (Indeed, it’s the only margarita we’ve ever seen served in a champagne flute.) The ’84 is a twist on the famous French ’75 cocktail: Longtime bartender Cruz Rodriguez uses the same build as the original, but swaps the ingredients for the Hispanic flavors of Espolon Silver tequila, simple syrup, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and sparkling rose chardon. The result is a baby-pink cocktail that’s perfect for sipping on the sun-kissed patio outside, just beneath the rooftop “You are Beautiful” sign that overlooks the Cultural Trail.
Watermelon margarita at Bar Louie
1251 N. U.S. 31, Greenwood, barlouie.com
This popular newcomer may have a martini logo, but the Greenwood Mall restaurant also includes a fair share of mojitos and margaritas. Grab one of 40-something spots at the horseshoe-shaped bar — or better yet, the wicker seating with red cushions if you have a large group — and pair the chicken bruschetta nachos with the watermelon margarita. Unlike most Mexican restaurants’ fruity margaritas, which are frozen-slush optional, Louie’s serves its on the rocks. Bartender Gabby Sanchez says the watermelon packs the most punch of all the margaritas (also available in strawberry, mango, spicy pineapple and the house), thanks to the higher alcoholic content of the Sauza Blue Silver vodka, which is shaken with watermelon syrup, sour mix and lime, sugar rim on request. (Though if you’re like most Hoosiers, you’ll ask for a salted rim to complement that summery watermelon flavor.) A plus? You don’t have to wait until Friday happy hour to indulge: Start the week off right on Mondays instead, when all margaritas are only $5.
Spicy Rim at La Revolucion
1132 Prospect St., Indianapolis
You could say La Revolucion is business in the front, party in the back, but the entire place has a lively atmosphere. The Fountain Square restaurant looks deceptively small from the street, and even once inside, most diners don’t realize the space continues back, and then back again. A small hallway leads to the surprisingly large tiki bar, complete with a bamboo-covered, thatch-roofed bar, party lights, long bench seating and Polynesian-themed decor, while another doorway leads to the spacious back patio, which features a fire pit. Should you stay up front, the main dining room has its own flair, with exposed wood beams and concrete floors set against mango-colored walls covered in crosses, Day of the Dead-inspired artwork and masks you wouldn’t want to see at the end of your bed at 3 a.m. But no matter where you choose to park with your paper boat of street-style tacos (the el pastor pork is a fave), nacho plate for a crowd or burger and fries, a matching drink is a must.
The bar menu features the kind of pretty drinks that call for a paper umbrella or a skewered pineapple wedge, bottled beers and Mexican Coca-Cola, all well and good, but a night out with friends over a basket of chips and salsa calls for something with some heat, like the spicy rim margarita. Co-owner Roni Donaldson says customer buzz over Revolucion’s yummy hot sauces gave way to the idea for the habanero-infused tequila drink, rimmed with a spicy salt that includes two kinds of crushed peppers. Looking for something even hotter, literally? Try the Jet Pilot, a mix of rum with grapefruit juice and cinnamon, topped with a flaming lime.
Coronita at Cheeseburger in Paradise
4670 Southport Crossing Drive, Indianapolis, cheeseburgerinparadise.com
It’s an age-old question: Liquor or beer? Thanks to the legendary Mr. Buffett, you don’t have to choose. Whenever quitting time rolls around (and remember, it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere), this beach-themed chain serves the best of both worlds in the Conorita, a margarita made with two top-shelf tequilas, orange juice, the restaurant’s own mix and a special clip on the salted rim that holds a 7-ounce bottle of Corona beer. Bar manager Joel Holaday agrees it’s an ingenious solution for diners who can’t choose.
“The drink starts out as half and half,” he says. “Half margarita, half Corona. But at the finish, it’s all Corona.” The drink is only on special on Cinco de Mayo (circle your calendar for 2018) for $5.55, natch. The rest of the time, it’s $8.79. “It’s too good to be on special,” Holaday says. “It’s special every day.” On the flipside, Parrotheads who feel nostalgic for their childhood summers will want to try the Dreamsicle, a margarita that tastes just like the pool concession stand treat without all the mess. Out to dinner with the kids? Order a frozen drink (for you, obviously), and they’ll get a kick out of your fruit-concocted parrot or Lizard Lips, the cheeky lime wedge-face complete with a pineapple tongue and sunglasses pin.