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Jimmy Buffett country

Where to find a mean margarita

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The model margarita is all about balance: a saline zing, a puckery wash over the palate with a barely sweet undercurrent and a smooth finish. I'm a guy who likes my margaritas on the rocks with salt. No boozed-up Slurpies dyed blue, thanks very much.

I slurped a cantina full of tequila-fueled drinks for research (I've scheduled a liver transplant so I can tackle mojitos next), and I gotta tell you -- there are a lot of nasty margaritas being mixed out there. Some tasted like Key lime pie in a glass, while others had a disconcerting chemical aftertaste. The following four places are the only ones I've discovered thus far whose margaritas I can recommend without hesitation:

Agave
This rustically charming restaurant in Cabbagetown is just right for an after-work bitch session at the bar over 'ritas and guac. Some of their concoctions, like the Peachtree Anejo made with Peach Schnapps, are a bit froufrou for my taste, but they also serve up delicious traditional margaritas. Try the Herradura Estate Top Shelf. 242 Boulevard, 404-588-0006, www.agaverestaurant.com.

Gringo's
When your server at Gringo's places your margarita on the table, your first reaction may be "Geez, this is tiny!" Don't be fooled. These babies are potent. One Texas Rocks margarita will mellow you right out. Prices won't drastically wither your paycheck either. Should the desire strike you, they also have lots of goofy frozen variations (you can let me know how the Dreamsicle is). 1238 DeKalb Ave., 404-522-8666.

Sala
Connoisseurs, welcome to your Holy Grail. Sala serves the most precisely and seductively engineered margaritas in town. Yes, the martini-esque shaker presentation is kinda pretentious, but wait until you taste. I'm perpetually jonesing for the Longhorn (their take on a Texas margarita) or the Reales, a bracing yet refreshing creation with no sweet and sour mix added. I'll warn you: They ain't cheap, and you can spend a small fortune here, but they're worth every sip. And now that the restaurant has a new chef, it's safe to move from the sleek bar into the lively dining room and stay for dinner. 1186 N. Highland Ave., 404-872-7203, www.sala-atlanta.com.

Zocalo
The vivacious, breezy room of this Midtown standard is ideal for whiling away a lazy summer afternoon or evening. The margaritas here are strong and gimmick-free. Servers are prone to upselling better brands of tequila (they've got a rainbow of bottles up on their bar shelf). Take them up on it once and a while -- the subtle differences between Cuervo Gold and, say, El Jimador Anejo will surprise. Of course, after three margaritas, it all starts to taste pretty much the same, but that's a whole other story ... 187 10th St., 404-249-7576.


Did I miss a good margarita? E-mail bill.addison@creativeloafing.com.

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