The mission: to identify the best margarita in New Haven.
The establishments: c.o. jones, Viva Zapata and El Amigo Felix
The team: two Mexicans (Alberto Ortega ’04 and Rafael Pizarra ’04), a Texan (Stephen Milbank ’04), someone named Margarita (Margaret Aiken ’04), and someone who just drinks a lot (William Frazier ’04).
The chaos: We wanted the experiment to be as scientific as possible. That lasted for about 2.3 seconds. We had planned to sample margaritas on the rocks, since most Yalies don’t have blenders. But when our waitress offered some words of wisdom — “The frozen ones get you drunk quicker” — our illustrious panel of judges decided we’d better get some of those, too. c.o. jones brought out an assortment of their specialty margaritas, from coconut-crusted Parrothead to Love Potion #9 (“I’m definitely feeling the love,” commented Alberto), and the contest was underway.
Our resident margarita connoisseur, Alberto, was impressed by the amount of tequila in the drinks but wary of the abundance of salt lining some of the glasses’ edges.
“It’s just too much,” he said.
Margarita’s favorite was the prickly pear — a “girl drink”– of the red slushy variety whose texture was both “sweet and smooth.”
“Cojones is definitely worth leaving campus for,” William said.
The judges were voicing unanimous praise of the blended concoctions when c.o. jones upped the ante. Our waitress arrived with a smile and two cutting boards replete with exotic tequila shots. The “tequila samplers” ranged from Cuervo to “tarantula” (“Is this the one that brings the ladies back home?” pondered Stephen, eyeing the blue tequila.)
The judges stood up for a toast, then paused to think of the perfect words: “You can’t go wrong by toasting to good tequila,” Margarita announced. Fair enough. Cheers.
We piled into our designated driver’s SUV — oh yes, fine readers, the Yale Daily News Mag is a safety clan — and headed back to campus, settling on classic rock after discovering that State Street had virtually no reception of Latin radio.
Upon entering Viva Zapata’s, we were ushered into the VIP section — the front bar, where few Yalies have gone before. We explained our mission to the bartender, and his confidence in the establishment was high.
“Best margarita in New Haven?” he asked. “Stop here. Go no further.”
With such bold talk, our judges were ready for results. Unfortunately, the judges (and the bartender) were sorely mistaken. While the glasses were appealing — brandy snifters wetted down with lime wedges — the drinks left much to be desired: namely, tequila, salt, and some effort to show that the drink was not pure mixer.
“It’s almost like there’s tequila in it — but not really,” Raf said. “They’re kind of hiding it in the corner.”
William was similarly stumped.
“Is there any alcohol in this?” he asked, with a straight face.
The brand was “house tequila,” conveniently imported from Mexico by way of world-renowned tequila distillery, New Jersey.
Decidedly “unimpressed,” it was time to make a toast and leave.
“Viva Mexico! Viva good liquor! Viva la Barn!” shouted Stephen, a resident of that humble abode across the street.
The Best Of monthly mission then took a turn for the Twilight Zone.
Unsolicited, our bartender declared that we “should really come back tomorrow morning for eggs Benedict.” Right.
Stephen, who holds an unsubstantiated (and, according to William, contested) claim that his ancestors invented the delicacy, stood atop his chair to make his sentiments known.
“I’d rather have eggs Benedict right now than this margarita,” he said.
The Best Of clan was ready to move on to our third and final stop — El Amigo Felix.
“Viva’s was a buzzkill,” Raf admitted. “Here at Felix, they know their product.”
Raf also preferred the Friend’s salsa to c.o. jones’ (Viva’s, alas, offered no such complimentary snacks), and was “overcome” by the service and ambience of authentic Mexican music, woven tapestries, and not-so-south-of-the-border African masks.
Our waiter, Miguel, shared his extensive knowledge of tequilas and provided us with personalized drink recommendations. What a “Friend.”
We enjoyed our round of frozen and on-the-rocks drinks, and then we lost control. Mutiny abounded and the Mexican judges — with a little help from Miguel — took the rest of us on a liquid tour of the madre patria. Our tourist traps? Corazon, Padron, and Two Fingers.
“My sombrero is off to El Amigo,” Stephen said.
William “Goldilocks” Frazier summed up the evening: “C.o. jones was tasty but cavernous. Viva’s was abominable. This is nice.”
The only thing not nice about El Amigo’s was the bill — each shot was a whopping $8. “But that’s the price you pay for perfection,” Alberto reminded the amateurs.
Luckily, with a little brains and a little talent, Margarita was able to “negotiate,” and we were able to return to campus without washing dishes.
Hasta la victoria siempre — especially if by “la victoria” you mean c.o. jones or El Amigo Felix. Adios.
-Yale Daily News