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Golden Margarita 

Maya Café, 2726 Sutton Avenue, 314-781-4774

The Golden Margarita (a.k.a. the Cadillac), along with the Top Shelf and the house margarita at the Maya Café in Maplewood, is better than pretty much any other so-called margarita in the city, for one simple reason: no mass-produced sweet-and-sour mix. The barkeeps squeeze their own tang, thanks, and as a result you don't feel like a fraud enjoying it.

Really, that mix -- comes in a plastic bottle or a huge drum or as a powder -- doesn't seem all that healthy, does it? It's a funny green color. Somehow it seems blasphemous, when you think about it, to add that to tequila -- sweet, sweet tequila. You don't drink Hi-C anymore, so why drink its freakish cousin? And the additives within: sodium citrate, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, sucralose, magnesium carbonate, xanthan gum, glyceryl abietate, FD&C yellow number 5.

Sucralose?

The Maya Café serves up decent Mexican food, good enough to be used as an excuse to scurry over and down a couple of ace margaritas. Bartender Grace Wilson will make one of the three for you: the Golden, featuring Souza Hornitos Reposado, Grand Marnier and sweetened fresh-squeezed lime juice (see below); the Top Shelf, featuring the same tequila, Cointreau and sweetened fresh-squeezed lime juice; and the house margarita, featuring the lesser Sauza Extra Gold tequila, Triple Sec and sweetened fresh-squeezed lime juice.

Wilson juices lemons, limes and oranges ("Mostly for color," she says, "to blend with whatever liqueur we put in") and mixes them with a bit of sugar, after which she stirs, shakes, tastes and finesses the result and, finally, mixes it with the liquor.

Truth be told, you'd need a tongue the size of a cow's to differentiate between the Golden (Cadillac) and Top Shelf margaritas. The only difference is Grand Marnier (a blend of cognac and orange) in the former and Cointreau (a blend of brandy and various citruses) in the latter. When these two liqueurs are cut with tequila and lime, who can tell the difference? Same goes for the notion of gussying up a margarita with fancy tequila; again, who can tell, once the drink is mixed? Some can, for sure. But expensive tequila, God bless it, lacks the honest kick of a midline tequila, and you want to taste the alcohol, don't you? Yes, says Wilson: "You want a tequila that will cut through the sour, that you can taste. I've been to places where it's, like, 'Where's the tequila?'"

Oh, and salt versus no salt? Doesn't matter, unless you've got a fever blister. If so, no salt.

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