The Rose Canyon Cantina, tucked away behind the last gasps of all-look-same inland South County in its own oak-lined dell, is the least likely place in the county to find a real, honest-to-God, Jalisco-style margarita. Most of the patrons are drinking tequila-tinged swill with bottled margarita mix and, in many cases, a small bottle of beer upended into the drink. It wasn't encouraging. I struck up a conversation with the bartender, who hails from Jalisco, and complained about the sugar-laden nonsense as I sipped a Victoria and a shot of Partida añejo (they have a pretty good tequila list).
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"I wish there were a place to get a real margarita, nomás tequila, triple sec and lime juice," I griped. He took my laminated, spiral-bound bar menu, flipped a few pages, and jabbed one finger at the Rose Canyon Margarita. Sure enough, Patrón silver, Cointreau, and lime juice. My eyes lit up as I ordered one. He walked over to the fruit bowl and picked out a few limes and a juicer.
If you've never had a real margarita, this will strike you as wildly unbalanced and sour; it's supposed to be. You're supposed to get a hit of sweetness from the Cointreau, a punch between the eyeballs from the tequila blanco, and a mouthful of sour to help it down, and this delivers. It isn't perfect--it isn't shaken, it's got a lot of swiftly-melting shell ice in it, and it's twice the size it should be--but you know what, one of those and an order of surprisingly good ceviche, and you're set for a lazy afternoon out in the last vestiges of rural Orange County.
Rose Canyon Cantina is located at 20722 Rose Canyon Rd., Trabuco Canyon; (949) 766-6939; rosecanyoncantina.com; Tuesday-Friday 4-10 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.