Cinco de Mayo is upon us, which for many of us can mean only one thing — margarita time, right?
Except I don’t really enjoy margaritas. Well, I should say a good one is hard to find. Shocking, I know. It’s like saying you don’t like dogs or babies. (By the way, I love all dogs and most babies.)
The idea of a refreshing, cold margarita pitcher to share with friends sounds delicious, but if we’re being honest, it’s rarely great. There are some good margaritas out there, but the majority are pre-made, with store-bought sour mix, artificial flavors, too sweet or too boozy (yes, there IS such a thing), frozen to a swirly death in a machine, or served in a fish bowl-sized vessel.
This is where brothers Everardo and Andres Garcia come into the picture, delivering the often-mistreated drink into salvation, with tender loving care. Lifelong Pilsen residents, they opened Del Toro Bar and Restaurant in October 2011, serving tacos, tortas, burritos and more than a dozen varieties of their signature margaritas.
The brothers’ inspiration for Del Toro remains their parents, long-time small business owners of the Pilsen staple, F&R Liquors. Both immigrants from Mexico — dad in the 1950s from San Luis, Potosi, and mom in the 1960s from Jalisco — they set an incredible example for their sons.
“When my parents came over they knew they were going to work their butts off, but they didn’t know how hard,” said Andres, 37. “My parents were just workaholics, they never took a day of vacation, ever. We are products of our parents — everything that they taught us and all that we learned from them, their knowledge came to us and we decided to open up this bar.”
That work ethic, care and attention to detail pays off in Del Toro’s fare, especially their margaritas. All the juices are freshly squeezed in-house, in addition to the mixers for the margaritas and other cocktails. One of my personal favorites is the “Berry Jalapeno,” made with blanco, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, jalapeno syrup, lime and cointreau. (And no, it’s not sweet! And has a good kick at the end!)
Del Toro serves up nearly 300 margaritas on a Saturday night, and the bartenders juice about 5 to 10 cases of limes every other day for use in all the various cocktails they create. The most popular margaritas are the pepino (highlighting cucumber, jalapeño and chile pequin), berry jalapeño, cazuela (featuring citrus including pink grapefruit and habanero) and sandia (watermelon) when in season.
“Good quality, consistency is important, especially when it comes to good liquor. We want quality in every sense of the word. I want that here in Pilsen, and I want people to know that we’re going to have the best tequilas, the best mixes, the best ingredients — so we start off on a good note there,” said Everardo, 44, with such seriousness I was sure this was etched in stone somewhere in the kitchen.
Everardo is the big brother in years, but Andres, standing at 6-foot-two-inches, is big brother in size. Everardo affectionately calls Andres his “muscle” and says he’s organized and tech-savvy but can be hot-headed. For Andres, there’s a palpable respect, not only for his parents, who sacrificed so much but also for his big brother.
“Growing up, I saw myself following in his footsteps. I followed my big brother everywhere. He’s an all around good guy, compassionate, workaholic, attentive to others’ needs before he takes care of himself,” said Andres, adding, “He’s kinda the boss.”
I could tell Andres didn’t mind that Everardo is the boss. Some of this brotherly respect and love comes through in the drinks and food as well; both brothers clearly take great pride in their history and business.
So, I wondered how they felt about Cinco de Mayo. We Americans do love a holiday, and can sometimes appropriate it in all the wrong ways.
“Cinco de Mayo, [outside] the people of Puebla [state], is not really celebrated [in Mexico],” said Andres, “My parents don’t celebrate it. It’s become an American holiday. In the United States it’s more of a drinking holiday. I’m not upset by it. Maybe back when I was a little child I thought why are they mocking a historic holiday, but not anymore.”
But one thing that crosses the line for the brothers on Cinco De Mayo, are the pub crawls.
“When they start ‘drink-o de-mayo,’ that’s the one thing I can’t stand. Because then you’re just encouraging excessive drinking. We want everyone to be more responsible — come here, enjoy yourselves, eat, drink, be 100-percent satisfied and then be able to work the next day. We don’t like it when you’re stumbling in here after being in four bars. Come on, that’s just too much!”
“Anytime, anywhere, if you can celebrate a culture and their history, their cuisine, their experience, so you can learn more about them and understand them better is a good thing,” said Everardo. “If people embrace our culture for one day of the year, I’ll take it.”