Limes, a crucial ingredient in a favorite Texas drink, margaritas, aren’t making their way to U.S. grocery stores and restaurants as easily as they used to, thanks to Mother Nature and a volatile political climate in Mexico, and as a result consumers and restaurant owners must pay a higher price for them.
The citrus fruits were 69 cents recently at Whole Foods — stores used to charge about $1 for four of them — and restaurants and bars buying them by the case now fork over around $110, versus the $60 they used to be, said La Condesa’s Nate Wales.
The shortage and price spike is the result of a "multi-faceted situation" in Michoacán, the Mexican state where most limes from Mexico are grown and where the U.S. receives roughly 95 percent of its lime supply, Contigo bar manager Steven Robbins said.
"What I understand through research," he said, "is that apparently drug cartels are taking over huge swaths of land where the limes are grown. The trees are rotten (because of a bacterial disease that attacks citrus trees). The trucks carrying the limes get hijacked, and on top of all that, an extremely long and cold winter made the limes smaller and less juicy."
Limes are out of season this time of year anyway, but the crisis in Mexico certainly isn’t helping their quality. Whisler’s bartender Brett Esler said he’s noticing it takes about an hour and a half to juice limes each day, rather than 30 minutes like it used to, and he "might get a drop out of a slice."
Nonetheless, dining and drinking establishments like La Condesa, Contigo and Whisler’s refuse to let skyrocketing costs stop them from producing good drinks and food with lime as an ingredient.
"Our bar program is all about fresh juice," Wales said, noting that La Condesa’s margaritas, guacamole and salsas all require limes to make. La Condesa is absorbing the higher cost to continue making them.
Another restaurant, South Lamar’s Odd Duck, is buying limes of a lower rating — grade B rather than grade A — because these $80 ones "juice just fine, but they aren’t pretty," general manager Jason James said. When they’re needed for a garnish, as in the Moscow Mule, Odd Duck swaps them out with lemons.
Contigo’s approach is to get creative. Robbins has tweaked the bar menu where he can and encourages customers to try drinks that don’t require lime juice. For example, on the happy hour menu, he’s replaced the margarita with the tequila daisy, a cocktail that asks for lemon juice.
"There is such a vast array of cocktails that we can use other citruses for," he said. "It just gives you an opportunity to step out and experiment."