The Best Spirit To Pair With Mexican Food, According To Rick Martinez

If you're enjoying tacos, enchiladas, or fajitas, chances are good you're craving a margarita to go along with it. But if you want to branch out to other drinks, who better to ask about alternatives than Rick Martinez, author of "Mi Cocina: Recipes and Raptures from My Kitchen in Mexico" In the book, the Austin-born chef shares recipes inspired by his time exploring all seven of Mexico's culinary regions, so he's had a lot of time to think about the best spirit to pair with Mexican food.

In a Tasting Table exclusive, we asked Martinez which drinks — besides a margarita — he would recommend, and he told us, "a good mezcal or tequila cocktail with a meal ... [and] something tart and fruity with bubbles [is] even better." While this can include a bevy of refreshing drinks, some of the most culturally specific include the paloma, the fruit-filled tequila sunrise, or the vodka-swapped take on the Moscow mule, the mezcal mule. Mezcal cocktails can include the mezcal negroni or a mezcal old fashioned. And since tequila is a type of mescal, it's no issue to substitute one for another in any of the best recipes. But, as much as Martinez loves a good tequila- or mezcal-based cocktail, he prefers to drink the spirits another way when pairing it with Mexican dishes: neat.

Martinez advocates for drinking mezcal neat

During the interview, Martinez insisted, "The best way to enjoy Mexican food is with a mezcal neat." However, he went on to note that drinking a spirit neat means that you cannot drink too much at once — so if you're not one to savor small sips, then it may not be for you. But as long as you can pace yourself (maybe order a glass of water on the side), he says mescal's flavor perfectly complements those found in Mexican dishes. "The terroir of the corn, beans, chiles, and agave are all pulled together by the rich earthy and minerally flavor of the mezcal," he told us. 

If you're intrigued by the idea of drinking mezcal neat but aren't sure where to start, Tasting Table rated the best mezcal brands, which includes Bozal, The Lost Explorer and Lalocura. And after you try it neat, you can use those bottles to make some of the cocktails mentioned above, even if you circle back and mix one in a good ol' margarita.