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It’s Cinco De Mayo weekend, always cause for celebration and a sure sign that summer is around the corner. I can down multiple tacos with the best of them, but there’s one aspect of Cinco De Mayo I just can’t get on board with: the margarita.

Too sweet, often too slushy. Too filling, getting in the way of my taco enjoyment. With salt, without, either way, I’m just not a fan.

What’s a non-margarita lover to do on May 5? (Or any day this summer, for that matter?) Behold, the paloma. Basically, it has many of the same elements of the margarita: tequila, lime, salt, ice. But instead of orange liqueur or premade margarita mix, you use grapefruit soda. That switch makes a whole world of difference, and now I have a cocktail to actually look forward to this weekend.

When I told Takeout spirits bureau chief Allison Shoemaker about my paloma plan, her eyes lit up. “That’s my favorite!” she enthused. Like a good bureau chief, she quickly sent me along some suggestions, like sticking to tequila blanco—she favors the George Clooney brand—going with a bourbon barrel-smoked sea salt, and adding a few dashes of bitters (none of which I had at the office, unfortunately).

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But for the main mixer, she was just as specific, suggesting, “Squirt, good; Jarritos, best (for me anyway). Also good with grapefruit juice and soda water but come on, it’s summer, low-stress is best.” For the paloma, you wet the rim of your glass and dip it in sea salt just like a margarita, then mix in the tequila, grapefruit soda, and some lime juice.

Photo: Gwen Ihnat

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Even the Squirt was much less sweet than sugary margarita mix, making the paloma taste more refreshing. Everyone who tried it with me was surprised by how the mixture of salt + tequila + lime + grapefuit soda = perfect alchemy. One pointed out that it tasted really “smooth.” “Really tasty” said another. It was also extremely drinkable, and at the end of a fun-filled hour, the tequila bottle that had sat on my desk for two years was empty. (Emergency!)

Below is my simple paloma recipe, followed by some fancier versions suggested by a few mixologists. Whichever one you try, once you’ve had the paloma that slushy green margarita mixture will be a distant Cinco De Mayo memory.

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Basic Paloma

Wet rim of rocks glass and roll in kosher or sea salt. Add ice, a shot of tequila, and grapefruit soda to fill. Squeeze in 1/4 lime’s worth of juice, add a lime slice to the rim of the glass, and serve.

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Clement Spiced Paloma from Free Rein at St. Jane Hotel in Chicago

  • .25 oz. Clement Liquor
  • .50 oz. Ancho Reyes (spiced chili liquor)
  • 1.5 oz. blanco tequila (Cazadores)
  • Topped with fresh grapefruit juice
  • Grapefruit rose and lime wheel garnish

Serve in a lowball glass over ice. The spiced chili liquor adds a layer of heat to the citrusy classic.

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La Paloma by Meaghan Dorman at Dear Irving On Hudson

  • .5 oz. lime
  • .75 oz. agave syrup
  • 1.5 oz. grapefruit juice
  • 2 oz. blanco tequila (espolon or pueblo viejo)

Shake and then strain into salt-rimmed Collins glass. Top with about 1.5 oz soda. Garnish with lime wedge.

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