May 19, 2011

Bar Guide: Festive, friendly Margaritas shakes things up

When it comes to creating a killer margarita with ambiance to match, Margaritas hits the nail on the head.

By JOHANNA SORRELL

I recently met a friend for drinks at Margaritas after work. When we walked through the doors of the boldly decorated bar, we realized that our idea was far from original. Margaritas was hoppin'.

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Bartender Amy Ridlon makes one of the many specialty margaritas available at Margaritas on Brown Street in Portland. The franchise serves 15 kinds of its signature drink.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

MARGARITAS MEXICAN RESTAURANT

WHERE: 11 Brown St., Portland. 774-9398; margs.com/locations/portlan_brown_street

HOURS: Dining 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; lounge open until 11 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and until 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday

HAPPY HOUR: 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with $12 margarita pitchers and $2 Bud Light drafts on select days

PARKING: Lot off Free Street behind the restaurant, and on-street parking if you're lucky

SCENE: Did I mention festive?

And after experiencing its signature cocktails, cheerful service and bottomless chips and salsa, I can see why.

Margaritas is a franchised restaurant, but don't let that lull you into thinking it's a carbon-copy experience. Those of us who live, drink and dine regularly in the Greater Portland area have a tendency to shy away from places that aren't the little boutiques that many of us have come to know and love. And by no means is that a bad thing. But I'm a proponent of dining diversity, and when it comes to creating a killer margarita with ambiance to match, Margaritas hits the nail on the head.

My Margaritas experience started before I even got to the bar. I was late (as usual), and my friend who arrived on time (as usual) was warmly greeted by the bartender who introduced herself and made my friend feel completely welcome. On a busy after-work night when everyone needs their drink -- and stat -- to bid the work day good riddance, that extra bit of friendliness can make all the difference.

But we're here to talk about the drinks, so let's get down to business.

Margaritas is aptly named -- it's the venue's signature drink, and for good reason. There are more than 15 varieties of "margs" (the nickname in the "Best of" margarita menu), which range from the Heavens to Margatroid (with a hefty combination of seven different liquors) to the Spider Cider Margarita (a refreshing mix of Tarantula Azul tequila with Sour Apple Schnapps). Most margs are priced in the vicinity of $7.99.

If you're feeling adventurous, give the Icy Spicy Margarita a go (yup, there's chipotle and habanero in there), or catch the Blood Orange Margarita ($8.99) while it's still in season. I ordered the Original to see whether the classic lived up to its hype, and the punchy, bright citrus flavors tickled my taste buds and invoked instant summer. It was a margarita win. And the secret ingredient in all of them? Fresh lemon and lime juice, squeezed daily.

If tequila isn't your thing, Margaritas has plenty of other options. The tropical theme trickles down to the cocktail menu, which features exotic selections including the Sangria de la Casa (a blend of sangria, Orange Curacao, brandy and fresh fruit juice), and the Coco Loco (coconut rum with pineapple, banana and melon flavors). And, of course, there's the broad on-tap beer selection featuring both local and from-away brews. Whether you're feeling festive or not, Margaritas has you covered with drinks that are shaken, stirred, frozen, on the rocks, straight up, dry or with salt on the rim.

While you're at Margaritas, you'd be hard pressed not to pair a snack or two with your tequila (or non-tequila) treat.

During happy hour (4 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday), order off the Fiesta Zone menu for a variety of goodies that will satisfy any craving. The Street Tacos are not only priced to move, they won't last long once you've tasted them. At 99 cents a pop, soft corn tacos with beef, chicken or pork carnitas are irresistible.

But if you're like me, you'll get distracted by the rotating specialities menu. One item that caught my eye was the Lettuce Shrimp Tacos ($9.49), which are delightful little guilt-free hearts of lettuce stuffed with fresh salsa, shrimp, avocado and mango poppy dressing. Yum.

With warmer weather just around the corner, do yourself a favor and grab a drink that represents summer at its best, at a place that knows the delicate alchemy of the perfect margarita. Stop by Margaritas and drink in the festivities.

Johanna Sorrell is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

 

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