By BRENNA GRITEMAN
Debbie Cooper is fully aware that her restaurant is as famous for its margaritas as it is for the food that she herself cooks.
And she’s got no problem with that reputation at all.
“I would say that three-quarters of our customers are here for the margaritas. That’s what people know us for: ‘Let’s go to Oler’s and get a margarita.'”
With National Margarita Day fast approaching on Friday, the Mexican restaurant is sure to be serving up these refreshing, tequila-laced cocktails by the pitcherful.
And that’s on top of the 36 to 48 gallons of margaritas Oler’s customers already consume in a week.
The most popular version is Oler’s original lime margarita, served on the rocks with a salt rim. It’s made from tequila and triple sec (orange-flavored liqueur), of course, but Cooper is tight-lipped about any of its otherwise “secret ingredients.”
The other top-selling margarita isn’t even on the menu — it’s just a bit of local lore that those in the know call a “Red Eye.” The locally famous concoction is Oler’s traditional lime margarita with a “dash” of strawberry margarita to help sweeten the sting. The restaurant’s “Black Eye” is the same concept but with blackberry, and the “Pink Eye” features an even slighter dash of strawberry.
“People just know to ask,” Cooper says of the many-hued variations. “It’s just something we started. And we just started calling it a ‘Red Eye.'”
Dale Mills of Arlington says the homespun cocktail is his happy hour beverage of choice. The 30-year Oler’s regular says he frequents the restaurant for the friendship and for the “best margaritas in town” — specifically, the “Red Eye.”
Matt Slough, formerly of Findlay and now living in the Philippines, concurs. He says whenever he makes it back to his hometown, Oler’s — along with its traditional lime margarita on the rocks — is a must.
He likes that the cocktail is perfectly plain and simple, without the sugary additives other places rely on. “This is just the lime and the tequila,” he says, noting how the salt rim perfectly counterbalances the sweet and sour flavors within.
For those who prefer their margaritas frozen, Oler’s offers a rainbow of options: lime, strawberry, raspberry, pomegranate, blackberry, peach, mango, etc. The blended concoction is less popular among the happy hour crowd that gathers for dollar-off margaritas from 2-6 p.m. daily, but is popular among large groups of diners. Bartender Shanna Coy says it’s not uncommon for everyone at the table to order a different flavor, then pass their frozen mixtures around for a colorful, group taste test.
Across town at Mi Tequila, owner Roman Zarazua Rubio reports the lemon-lime-flavored house margarita, served on the rocks with a salt rim, is the beverage of choice.
He estimates that about 4 in 10 customers order some variety of margarita, be it the house special or any number of flavored, frozen offerings.
But while he agrees that the frozen beverages offer a nice array of choices — mango, strawberry, peach and so on — he also feels their merits are lacking: “When it’s frozen, basically you freeze your brain and you lose the flavor of the honey and the tequila.”
And tequila, of course, is the most important part.
“To order a margarita without tequila is like to order a hamburger without the patty,” Rubio says.
Lucy Munoz of La Charrita says definitively that the margarita is the most frequently ordered beverage at the Findlay restaurant, topping even beer.
She goes so far as to estimate that as many as 7 or 8 out of 10 customers request one.
And while frozen flavor options abound, it should come as no surprise that here, too, the original lemon flavor on the rocks is the margarita of choice.