Austin bars have fully embraced the growth of mezcal, tequila’s smoky agave-based cousin, over the past few years. Now there are a handful of spots that pay special homage to Mexico’s native spirit. Try a dram served in the traditional way, neat with an orange slice and dusting of Sal de Gusano (a firey chili salt made with crushed worms).
1. Cantina El Milamores at Takoba
1411 E. Seventh St.; 512-628-4466; takobarestaurant.com
Takoba offers a good tequila selection, but they nail the mezcal category with the best overall list in town. 60 different kinds of mezcal spanning 20 different brands grace the menu, which is constantly being updated. To find your favorite, the staff encourage trying an affordable flight (from $8 to $20) or a boozy mezcal Old Fashioned.
2. 400 Rabbits
5701 Slaughter Lane; 512-476-1320; 400rabbitsbar.com
Named after the myth of Aztec goddess Mayahuel’s many offspring, 400 Rabbits also offers a great selection of hand-picked flights (ranging from $12-30) and agave cocktails. The mezcal list is shorter and more precise, focusing on a smaller number of quality brands chosen by Alamo Beverage Director Bill Norris.
3. La Condesa
400 W. Second St.; 512-499-0300; lacondesa.com/austin
There aren’t many flights at La Condesa, but the mezcal choices are still varied and interesting. If you want to try a really special variety, opt for the Del Maguey’s Pechuga, which uses fruit and chicken breast in the distillation process. Other bars offer Pechuga, but you won’t find it for a better price than here ($45).
4. Papi Tinos
1306 E. Sixth St.; 512-479-1306; papitinos.com
When it comes to ambiance, Papi Tinos blows the competition away. Sitting at the rustic bar, sipping a proper mezcal with sal de gusano, you can easily pretend you’re in Mexico. An additional perk: Each mezcal on the menu has flavor description notes. (Their hours recently reduced to Friday and Saturday service only.)
2027 Anchor Lane; 512-614-2260; contigotexas.com/austin
Contigo has a modest but thoughtful selection of five brands of mezcal. The most experimental and interesting use of the spirit at this comfortable ranch-style restaurant might be the bold, bitter the Closer cocktail, which adds a lick of smoke to the substantial pour of Averna amari and Angostura bitters.