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Jean Le Boeuf picks Southwest Florida's best margaritas; Bubba's Roadhouse wins fan vote

A Cinco de Mayo search for Southwest Florida's best margarita leads to some salty competition.

May 1, 2013   |  
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Best margarita: Jean Le Boeuf's pick - Agave Grill...
Best margarita: Jean Le Boeuf's pick - Agave Grill...: Jean Le Boeuf's pick for best margarita belongs to the Agave Grill in Naples. Video by Kinfay Moroti/news-press.com
The Bubbarita from Bubba's Roadhouse & Saloon in Cape Coral was voted fan favorite in the Margarita Madness contest. / Special to The News-Press
The house margarita from Los Cabos Cantina & Tequila Bar / Special to The News-Press
The Awesome Margarita from Square 1 Burgers & Bar
Janelle Kahle relaxes Friday at Agave Southwestern Grill in Naples. Kahle is the beverage manager. / KINFAY MOROTI/THE NEWS-PRESS
The House Silver, left, and Private Label margaritas are among those featured at Agave Southwestern Grill in Naples. / KINFAY MOROTI/THE NEWS-PRESS

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I consider it one of the rigors of my line of work; having to carefully calculate a ratio of margaritas to food that won’t result in a cab ride home.

Drinking on the job is frowned upon. Drinking as your job? It’s an honor usually reserved for sommeliers and Belgian monks. And for the last few weeks: Me.

In preparation for Cinco de Mayo on Sunday, our Margarita Madness contest started a little more than a month ago with a simple Facebook post asking folks to nominate their favorite margarita places. Hundreds of votes for dozens of drinks poured in, and the top 32 earned a seed in the Margarita Madness bracket.

Upsets were many. When the dust settled Bubba’s Roadhouse & Saloon in Cape Coral won, shaking off competitors week after week to stand alone atop the salt-rimmed heap. I visited the restaurants that advanced to the Eight on the Rocks round. Plus I was granted two saves to apply to two places I thought had been unfairly booted. Of those 10 restaurants, my five favorites are listed here.

The criteria

I ordered house margaritas and, when available, premium margaritas at each of the restaurants and bars I visited. I was looking for a healthy kick of tequila, a limy tang and a clean finish. I also took tequila selection into account as a secondary factor behind flavor.

The contenders

The Eight on the Rocks finalists: Bubba’s Roadhouse & Saloon, Charley’s Cabana Bar at Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa, Cinco Amigos, Iguana Mia, Los Cabos Cantina & Tequila Bar, The Office Pub, Square 1 Burgers & Bar, Rumrunners

My two saves: Agave Southwestern Grill, Cantina Laredo

The fan favorite

Like other things in Cape Coral, the Bubbarita from Bubba’s Roadhouse & Saloon is certifiably huge. At 46 ounces, it’s enough for a small bachelorette party. A hefty kick of Jose Cuervo and a bright balance of lime make it the perfect counterpoint to one of the restaurant’s fat, juicy burgers.

To see how Bubba’s beat out 31 other restaurants to claim the Margarita Madness fan title, news-press.com/margarita.

And the winner is …

• Agave Southwestern Grill

During happy hour, which lasts from open to 7:30 p.m. daily, Agave’s house silver margarita is just $4.50. That’s a pittance for this perfectly balanced, dangerously smooth cocktail.

Crafted from Cazadores tequila that’s made from 100 percent agave juices with no sugars or fillers, this margarita comes from Agave’s expert bartenders shaking in Triple Sec, fresh lime juice, a squeeze of agave nectar and their house-made limeade.

You’ll find no syrupy mixers here, nothing artificial whatsoever. The watermelon-cilantro margarita is made from freshly muddled melon speckled with the fresh herb. And if you want to upgrade your tequila you have more than 200 means of doing so, more than any other area restaurant.

• Details: 2380 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples; 598-3473; agavenaples.com

• Price: $9 to $15 for most margaritas, half-price from 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. daily

The rest of the top five

• 2. Los Cabos

Cantina & Tequila Bar

This downtown Fort Myers resto-bar serves only 100 percent Agave tequilas, 66 of them give or take. Here house margaritas are made with fresh limeade – a tangy concoction of lime juice and organic sugar – Agave Blanco tequila and Triple Sec. They have a subtle sweetness about them, with a boozy kick that’s unmistakable. A garnish of orange in addition to the usual lime was a nice touch. The plush, cowboy-leather booths on which you can enjoy your cocktail don’t hurt either.

• Details: 2226 First St., downtown Fort Myers; 332-2226; facebook.com/LosCabosCantinaTequilaBar

• Price: Margaritas start at $8, half-price during happy hour

• 3. Cantina Laredo

Cantina’s Casa Rita is made from Sauza’s Giro Silver tequila, Cointreau and a mix of lemon and lime juices and sugar (unlike Agave and Los Cabos, they prefer not to call it limeade). This one had the most substantial kick of tequila, but the lemon-lime mixer tasted a bit off one night, like it had been made a day or so earlier and was no longer at peak freshness. The daring can upgrade to a 3 Amigos margarita with a generous shot of Hornitos Plata tequila and a mini bottle of Corona poking from the top, infusing the drink with its sudsy fizz.

• Details: 5200 Big Pine Way, south Fort Myers; 415-4424; cantinalaredo.com

• Price: $9-$12.25 for most margaritas, drink specials Monday to Friday 4-7 p.m. and 9 p.m.-close, Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

• 4. Square 1 Burgers & Bar

This Tampa-based burger joint serves a surprisingly delicious margarita. Aptly named The Awesome Margarita, it features a generous shot of Patron Silver mixed with St. Germain elderflower liqueur, agave nectar and a dash of sweet and sour mix. It’s served sans salt. The St. Germain lends a refreshing (and dangerous) lightness to this very sip-able cocktail. At $9.99 it was the least expensive Patron-based margarita I encountered.

• Details: 5031 S. Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers; 931-8111; square1burgers.com

• Price: The Awesome Margarita, $9.99; Boomer Sooner Margarita, $8.49

• 5. Iguana Mia

At more than 20 years in business Iguana Mia is the mother of high-end margaritas in Southwest Florida. Folks still flock to the trio of restaurants on Monday nights when the house ‘rita is just 99 cents; a tangy, well-balanced steal. I actually preferred the house margarita, bottled mixers and all, to the Ultimate Margarita, which was soured by an overwhelming dose of lemon-lime juice that tasted bitterly past its prime.

• Details: Restaurants in Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Bonita Springs; iguanamia.com

• Price: $4-$12 for most margaritas, 99 cent house margaritas on Mondays

Jean Le Boeuf is the nom de plume of a local food lover who dines at The News-Press’ expense. Contact jleboeuf@news-press.com; facebook.com/JeanLeBoeufSWFL or @jeanleboeuf (Twitter).

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