It will come as a shock to few that I don't get out of the house often. In fact, in the two months since Bass was born, I've made it out of the house for a social reason exactly once. I was overdue for a night out with the girls—and a good drink.
We all agreed that we wanted to get a good margarita, and that for once we would go out in my neck of the woods instead of northeast or downtown Minneapolis like we usually do. But who has the best margarita in Fridley? Since we didn't know, we realized we had a mission on our hands.
Yes, we drank margaritas, many, many margaritas—all in the name of research, of course.
Our first stop was . We arrived just shy of happy hour, which ends at 6 p.m. on Fridays, but tucked up to the bar and were served quickly. I asked for a margarita and told "Church," the bartender, to "impress me."
Church took that as a challenge, and not necessarily in the right way. The drink, a very pale yellow, was nearly undrinkable with Petron and Grand Marnier. The filberts floating on top were screaming to be saved from their boozy bath. "If you didn't want something strong, you should have ordered a Sweet and Sour," Church joked good-naturedly while my two girlfriends and I passed the drink back and forth, spluttering. Church was a former bartender at Gastoffs in Northeast Minneapolis, and the pedigree showed in the alcohol-to-mixer ratio of his concoctions. The bar manager kindly offered us a re-shake and adjustment, which we turned down. We had 10 minutes to make it to our next stop before their happy hour cut off.
Stop number two was , where we apparently just missed a meat raffle, but managed to steal that table—a real coup in a very bustling bar. We made the happy hour, which meant $1 off all drinks until 7 p.m. including my margarita. The rest of my group—including our token male, who we let come along as our designated driver—started drinking beer with tomato juice chasers. (They're all from North Dakota.)
The Shortstop margarita is a very basic, no-frills bar margarita of booze and mix. The mixer had a definite Sweet-tarts aftertaste, like someone ground candies into a powder and reconstituted them with water. One of my girlfriends, after taking a sip, dubbed it "commercial. Nothing really stands out." Unlike the Shorewood margarita, we did finish this drink, but had no desire to order a second. Which was just fine, since now we were ready to hit the jewel of our night, .
While we were considering adding Herradura to our great margarita hunt, other customers at the Shortstop heard what we were doing and urged us to head over there as soon as possible for the amazing food and the margarita fountain.
The fountain may have been overstatement, but at Herradura we found a warm, cozy, friendly restaurant with great food—and utterly delicious margaritas. Our table ordered house nachos and shrimp tacos, both of which received rave reviews from everyone.
And then there were the margaritas. Oh, the margaritas ...
Having not had a lot of luck so far, we ordered light: one small traditional and one small midori. The traditional was perfect. The ratio of alcohol to mix was well-balanced, the rim very lightly salted. This was our first margarita not garnished with filberts, which by the end of the night I learned is a telltale sign that your drink is at best average. "This is how a margarita should taste," one of my girlfriends noted.
The midori margarita was even better. The combination of melon and tequila was spot on, making a drink that could have had an almost cough syrupy sweetness instead utterly refreshing.
We ended up stealing the glass back from each other, fighting over the next sip. We knew it was time to order more drinks or there might be actual punches thrown. For our third drink we went with the passion-fruit margarita, which was not only delicious but possibly the prettiest drink I've seen, with the syrup forming colorful layers in the liquor. It only took a few sips of the passion fruit before we realized we needed to order a second.
At this point, I could have easily ordered another round of drinks and curled up in the lounge in front of Herradura's blazing fireplace, but we were on a quest and we still had stops to make. For the next margarita we went to the Outback Steakhouse in Coon Rapids—not Fridley proper but close enough to cheat a little.
Outback's house margarita, made for us by bartender Josh, uses Sauza as its liquor, and was the margarita I most associated with the ones we would shake up at home. The drink is simple, unsurprising and exactly what you would expect if you ordered a margarita. It didn't wow you like Herradura's drinks, but you wouldn't turn down a second like you might at Shorewood or Shortstop. And at $3.95 a glass, it was the best-priced drink of the night.
It should also be pointed out that the Outback margarita is served in a very stable, thick-stemmed, wide-based glass, something we appreciated as we entered the fourth hour of our quest.
Our final stop was supposed to be , so we could throw another authentic Mexican stop into the mix. Unfortunately we learned that a large number of Fridley restaurants close at 11 p.m., even on Fridays. We arrived in the parking lot just as they were closing the doors, and had to move on to Sarna's Classic Grill in Columbia Heights for our final drink.
At Sarna's we ordered their classic margarita and a mango margarita, hoping to have as much luck as we did at Herradura's. Sadly, both fell flat in comparison. The glasses were coated heavily in salt, making it nearly impossible to drink from unless you used a straw, and ensuring the drinks themselves had a slightly salty aftertaste. The mango margarita was too sweet—one tester called it a "kiddie cocktail on steroids." The classic margarita appeared to use the same mixer as the Outback version, but seemed like a less full-bodied version, maybe due to the salt which caused the ice to melt quickly and water it down.
After five stops, it was easy to say, hands-down, that for the best margarita you should head to Herradura, especially for their 99-cent margaritas served Monday through Thursday. If it's the weekend and you want the best tasting, you should still go to Herradura, but if you are looking for a perfectly good margarita and would like to save a little cash, Outback may be a better place to go. If you want to have a margarita at the Shorewood, tell Church to go easy on you or order his sweet and sour. And if you find yourself at Shortstop or Sarna's, you'd probably be better off just ordering something else to drink.
Outback house margarita: $3.95 any time
Shortstop margartia: $4.75 at happy hour (one dollar off)
Shorewood margarita: $6.50
Sarna's classic margarita: $6.50 (fruit margaritas $7.25)
Herradura's traditional: $6.50 for small (can run to almost $9 for large or small specialty margaritas), 99-cent margaritas Monday through Thursday
Each week, Great Escape offers ideas to give you a much-deserved break or make your life a little easier. Tell about your idea of a Great Escape in comments below or by emailing email@example.com.