Of Mexico’s many contributions to the pleasures of the palate, tequila is the most internationally acclaimed. Arizona offers opportunities galore to savor this iconic sip, along with kindred south-of-the-border spirits like mescal and sotol.Here’s a sampling of some of the top spots around the state to become agave savvy.
Tucson & Southern Arizona
Gaze out at saguaro-studded mountains while toasting ¡Salud! at the aptly named Salud Lobby Lounge in Tucson’s JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa. More than 140 premium tequilas, several infused with fresh ingredients like chiles and pineapple, are on offer.
You’ll find a similarly generous selection at Casino Del Sol Resort’s Tequila Factory, with a different top-shelf Mexican spirit on special each week. Bi-monthly dinner pairings (through September) might focus on mescal – tequila’s smoky Oaxacan cousin – or sotol, distilled in Chihuahua from desert spoons, not agaves.
Relocated several years ago from Nogales, Mexico, chic Elvira’s boasts the largest selection of tequila in Tubac. Cozy up to the intimate bar in this colorful innovative restaurant just south of Tucson.
Greater Phoenix Area
La Hacienda by Richard Sandoval at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess has an in-house Tequila Goddess to act as spirit(s) guide to the restaurant’s nearly 250 varieties of premium Mexican liquors. Feeling adventurous? Don’t miss the Snake Bite Flight, a tasting of sotol, mescal and tequila served on a plate with a genuine rattlesnake head and tail.
Scottsdale’s Old Town Tortilla Factory is a close contender when it comes to bottle numbers and has a national claim to fame: They sell more El Tesoro tequila than anywhere else in the US. Other in-demand brands include the new Casa Amigos, backed by George Clooney and Randy Gerber.
Many people’s impressions of tequila are formed in college – and they’re rarely positive. With its huge menu of 100% blue agave tequilas, Canteen Modern Tequila Bar in Tempe, near Arizona State University, should inspire a new generation to appreciate the complexities of a drink meant to be savored with good food, not kicked back in shots.
Northern & Central Arizona
Taking pride of place at the bar in Flagstaff’s Criollo Latin Kitchen is a Jack Daniels barrel cask filled with organic Republic tequila, slowly aging from plata to reposado. An unusually large selection of mescal also attests to the restaurant’s seriousness about Mexican spirits.
At Oaxaca, where Agavero, a blend of tequila and Damiana – an aphrodisiac liqueur dating to pre-Hispanic days – is among the sipping options, Sedona’s red rocks provide romantic vistas. Also mood-enhancing: Oaxaca’s house specialty margaritas.
For a spirited moveable feast – including tequila-marinated ceviche and a margarita cake – book the Verde Canyon Railroad’s Tequila Sunset Limited, departing from Clarkdale monthly in summer (through September). Ogle the scenery in the late afternoon daylight, and then, after dining and imbibing, enjoy the stars from the open-air car.
Cinco de Mayo celebrations involving Mexican bebidas and snacks include the Agave Fest at Hotel Congress in Tucson, the Cinco de Drinko block party on Mill Avenue in Tempe and the Tequila and Tacos Festival in Flagstaff’s Pepsi Amphitheater.
The fun continues in August with the Salsa and Tequila Challenge at Tucson’s La Encantada shopping center, benefitting the Southern Arizona Arts & Cultural Alliance and Community Food bank, and the World Margarita Championship at the Tucson Museum of Art in October.
Also in October, Scottsdale’s Arizona Taco Festival features a Tequila Expo. Toast the year past with samplings of premium brands at the Phoenix Tequila Fest held at the US Airways Center at the end of each year.