In Mexico, Margaritas are for tourists. The cocktail of the people? The Paloma, hands down. At its heart, the Paloma is a straightforward sipper: a slug of tequila, some grapefruit soda (usually Squirt), a squeeze of lime, ice and zero fanfare. North of the border, bartenders have made a habit of riffing on this magic recipe, subbing in measures of vodka or mezcal, tricking it out with fresh juices and amping up flavors with Amari, spicy ginger and more. These are five variations to try at bars or make at home right now.
1: Freek’s Mill Paloma (Freek’s Mill, New York City)
This tasty version keeps the tequila and lime juice but turns the rest of the drink on its head. Instead of grapefruit soda, Pamplemousse Liqueur, a splash of Contratto bitter (an apéritif similar to Campari), plus cava provide the right flavor and effervescence. And rather than a pinch of salt, as is customary in a Mexican Paloma, this drink takes a few drops of saline to add that mouthwatering hint.
2: Playa Sueños (Radiator, Washington, D.C.)
Tony Burke’s take on the Paloma mixes grapefruit, dark sloe gin and zingy ginger syrup for a rosy hue and complex fruitiness, while soda water adds effervescence. Smoky mezcal and grapefruit bitters round out the drink. (The name means “beach of dreams” in Spanish.)
3: Mourning Doves (Pinewood Social, Nashville)
This Paloma winks at the Whiskey Sour, adding lemon alongside grapefruit as the citrus element, as well as a mix of maple and simple syrups to sweeten. It’s missing the fizziness that usually lightens a Paloma, making it a bit more substantial than the original. At Pinewood Social, a spicy chipotle tincture is spritzed over the top of the drink.
4: Palomita (Salvation Taco, New York City)
Paloma means “dove” in Spanish, which means this drink’s name translates to “little dove.” This interpretation, from April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman’s modern taco restaurant and bar, swaps in vodka for tequila and adds a rim of vanilla-flecked salt but otherwise leaves the original intact.
5: Vida Paloma (Fat Baby Tacos, Chicago)
At this new Chicago restaurant, mezcal stands in for tequila and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, with simple syrup and club soda forming the grapefruit-soda-like component. However, the real wild card is a spicy Chile Piquin glass rim, dried, pulverized hot pepper with a smoky-citrus flavor.