It’s hard for me to drop in to a Mexican restaurant and not have a margarita. But a standard house margarita can also become boring.

So when I stopped by Mesa Verde in Portland, I asked how I could shake the classic drink up a bit. I could have gone with a fruity option — they offer strawberry, raspberry, peach, mango and banana variations — but those are all frozen. I’m more of an on-the-rocks kind of girl.

“We also have a tequila infused with strawberry and serrano peppers,” the bartender informed me.

Skeptical of the pepper-infused tequila since my last experience with a margarita like that left me begging for mercy, I hesitated.

“Want to try it?” she asked.

So she handed me about a sip’s worth in a glass. I sniffed, then sipped. It was this interesting mix of sweet, then spicy, that I thought I’d be remiss for not trying in a margarita mix.

Throw an original lime mix into that sweet-then-spicy tequila, plus an evenly salted rim — we’re talking yum. The full-size version was served in a medium glass, not your standard margarita glass, and for $6, I thought it was a great drink.

My friend splurged a bit and ordered a top-shelf margarita. It set her back $11, but she said it was one of the best margaritas she has had.

Located in Portland’s arts district, Mesa Verde would be easy to miss while walking down Congress Street because it blends into the block of buildings. But it’s the ideal place to swing by for happy hour or before a show at the State Theatre.

The bar is right there as you walk in. Stretching the length of the restaurant back toward the kitchen, it offers ample seating. There are plenty of tables in the dining area, which is separated from the bar by a half-wall. The decorations are quirky, from the bright teal paint to the spaceships that some local artists hung on the walls.

There were a few people enjoying an afternoon cocktail when I went on a recent Wednesday, some of whom the bartender seemed to know. That gave it the neighborhood bar feel.

A few weeks earlier, however, just before the Matt Nathanson concert at the State, the place was packed. My roommate and I had stopped there for dinner and drinks. Knowing many diners were headed to the concert, the servers were mindful and got us in and out before the opening act started.

Because they’re open late with happy-hour specials from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, Mesa Verde also makes a great after-show bar. It continues to serve a limited menu that late, which you can’t always get at 11 p.m. at a bar and restaurant.

My one gripe — it would have been nice to be offered some chips and salsa. Chips and salsa seem to just go hand in hand with margaritas, kind of like wine and cheese.

Emma Bouthillette is a freelance writer who lives in Biddeford.