Stop by the downtown visitor center (201 W. Marcy St.) to invest three bucks in the Margarita Trail Passport. In exchange for inclusion, the 31 featured bars and restaurants have developed special concoctions. Their recipes, plus a trail map, are included in the informative booklet. Holders get $1 off each of the listed margaritas and earn stamps good for free gifts with each purchase.
Start sipping at the La Fonda on the Plaza hotel, the only place providing stamps at three venues: La Plazuela restaurant plus two bars.
In warm weather, locals enjoy after-work cocktails at La Fonda’s Bell Tower Bar, a rooftop gathering spot overlooking the city. Its new offering, the Bell Ringer, comes with a kick; it’s made with Tanteo jalapeno tequila, Cointreau, jalapeno juice and lemon-lime juice.
Just off the lobby, La Fiesta Lounge serves a new margarita as well as a tequila flight containing four types of Herradura tequila.
Server Andrew Alas first offers the Silver, aged for 40 days.
“It has a soft taste,” he explained. “It’s really, truly light.”
Under Alas’ tutelage, guests then try varieties of reposado and anejo before he proffers a small glass of double-barrel tequila. It comes from individually numbered bottles bearing the hotel’s name.
The liquor is smooth as silk on both the tongue and the back of the throat.
“We’re now on our third barrel, so it’s been really successful,” said Shawn Murphy, La Fonda’s food and beverage director.
“People associate tequila with margaritas. I don’t drink it that way. I sip tequila,” he added. “The tequilas they come out with now are as good as any brandy or cognac. They’re just as smooth. It’s amazing.”
Peppers are a big deal in New Mexico. The village of Hatch, in the southern part of the state, is famous for its green chiles. No wonder another locals’ favorite, Del Charro Saloon at Inn of the Governors, puts an emphasis on super-spicy ingredients in both its food and drink.
Del Charro’s new special, the Santa Fe Trail margarita, will knock the socks off a timid out-of-towner. In addition to green chile-infused tequila, bartenders add green chile powder and red chile flakes. With that much spice, the Cointreau, lemon and lime juices almost seem like afterthoughts.
If that’s not enough to make a gringo’s eyes water, there are always the quesadillas topped with New Mexico green chile.
Tourists who forgot to pack their antacid pills can always opt for the Cowgirl Cadillac margarita at Cowgirl, an indoor-outdoor rib joint near Santa Fe’s up-and-coming Railyard District.
The restaurant’s special is a gentle spin on the classic margarita. It’s made from organic blue agave tequila, Grand Marnier, and sweet and sour mix, as well as fresh squeezed lime and orange juice.
About a mile away at Maria’s, where the passport drink is named for former owner Lucero, don’t be surprised to find Robert Redford sitting nearby. A Santa Fe homeowner, the legendary actor has been dining here since he filmed “The Milagro Beanfield War” in nearby Truchas in the late 1980s.
Just try to avoid asking for a frozen margarita. That will make the bartenders wince.
“When you’re doing a frozen margarita,” Lucero pointed out, “you’re getting a slushie, and it’s mostly ice.”
(Jay Jones is a freelance writer.)
IF YOU GO
Maria's New Mexican Kitchen: 555 W. Cordova Road, Santa Fe; 505-983-7929; www.marias-santafe.com
La Fonda on the Plaza: 100 E. San Francisco St., Santa Fe; 800-523-5002; www.lafondasantafe.com
Del Charro Saloon: 101 W. Alameda St., Santa Fe; 505-954-0320; www.delcharro.com
Cowgirl: 319 S. Guadalupe St., Santa Fe; 505-982-2565; www.cowgirlsantafe.com