Editor's note: You may know John M. Edwards from his fast food reviews here at Serious Eats. We figured that if he's willing to try a Denny's Fried Cheese Melt, he's pretty much up for anything involving chain restaurants...even tasting his way through their signature cocktails. Here he is with another edition of Cheap Buzz, for National Margarita Day! Take it away, John. —The Mgmt.
When somebody says "Mexican food," the first thought that pops into my head is "booze." Something about a belly full of rice, beans, and meat requires some sort of alcoholic beverage with it. What better than a margarita to help burn through the food coma?
As far as fast-casual restaurants go, Chevys Fresh Mex ranks pretty high up there—fresh pico de gallo, tortillas made throughout service, sizable portions. But, as we've seen, sometimes a place to get a good, cheap meal isn't the best place to get good booze. I set out to see what the watering hole at Chevy's had to offer.
Chevy's classic margarita has Cuervo Tradicional Tequila with Cointreau and their margarita mix; three other of their many, many different twists on the drink include the Cranberry, the Cabo Wabo, and the Spicy Mango.
The Cranberry Margarita was tart and drinkable, but seemed like a standard margarita with some cranberry juice dumped in; it ended up more cranberry than cocktail. The Cabo Wabo 'Rita was much better—I tasted smooth tequila and citrus flavors, and the tartness really balanced out the burn and the sweet. (That said, the lime was a little suspect; my dining companion noted that it tasted like lime Lifesavers, rather than fresh lime juice.) The Spicy Mango Margarita, while tasty and smooth—a good contrast between the powerful tequila and sweet, fruity mango—lacked any kind of heat. Good drink, bad name?
Like at Red Lobster, drinks at chain restaurants tend to contain fruit—lots of fruit. (It is so frequently the case that, for the sake of reporting on the menu, I feel I have to try them, whether they're my kind of drink or not.) Chevy's mango mojito (Bacardi Silver, fresh-squeezed lime, mint, Sierra Mist, and mango) had a good balance of booze and fruit, and didn't just taste like flavored soda, despite the lemon-lime in there. And one of the best drinks we tried was the Prickly Pear Agave (Prickly pear, Sauza Hornitos Reposado, and Tuaca)—well-balanced, cool, and refreshing. In both cases, I could feel the smooth alcohol, but wasn't overwhelmed by either it or the fruit. Both also ranked way above the Pomegranate Martini (Smirnoff Vodka, pomegranate liqueur and Cointreau) which reminded me of Robitussin.
On the final flight (Mom, if you're reading this, it wasn't all in one trip), we went top-shelf with the Dos Patrones margarita—smooth and well-balanced, like the Cabo Wabo Rock'n Rita with more orange, and less lime. The Kraken Fruit Punch tasted strongly of fresh mango (which I liked), but remained a little thin and weak for me—something you'd drink first thing in the morning. Better in the non-margarita camp was the Raspberry Rum Punch—rum with raspberry, rather than the other way around. Definitely a good drink.
If you're looking for snacks, you could just keep eating the complementary chips and Pico de Gallo—fresh, chunky, spicy, juicy. The Red Chili Pork Taquitos came out crunchy and meaty, with a delicious green tomatillo dipping sauce.
All in all, the drinking experience at Chevy's can be quite good. Not all of the drinks deliver on what the menu says they should be, but they don't skimp on the alcohol, and, for the most part, they're not corn-syrup-laden alco-smoothies like Red Lobster's. If you're able to dodge the fruity and gimmicky drinks, it's possible to have a solid drinking experience.