It may sound blasphemous, but you can make it through Cinco de Mayo without tasting that most familiar of all Mexican cocktails. In fact, you owe it to yourself to forgo the margarita over the next several days. Why? Because, at its core, Cinco de Mayo is a commemoration of freedom. So why not explore the wide open wilderness of Mexican spirits?
For something more imaginative than your standard margarita, head over to the Mission and dip a toe into the inviting pool of cocktails available at Mosto Tequila and Botanos Bar (741 Valencia). Connected to Tacolicious next door -- a spot known for its margaritas -- this slightly-wider-than-a-hallway adjunct is home to what could be the city's best mezcal cocktail: The Evil Twin. Balancing the notoriously smoky libation against the spice of chiles, the refreshment of muddled cilantro, and, most notably, the gentle sting of fresh ginger, it somehow ends its journey as a celebration in quench (bonus style points for the metal stirring straw).
And although the strong burnt flavors of mezcal typically don't lend themselves well to food pairings, the folks at Mosto have a secret weapon in the form of pastrami tacos. Initially introduced as a Chanukah special, the trans-ethnic dish has become a permanent fixture thanks to popular demand. The unctuous charred notes of the classic Jewish deli meat find a soulmate in the turf-smoked earthiness defining the Evil Twin. The taco is slathered generously in caraway cabbage slaw and chile aoili, perfect counterpoints to the spice of a drink served in a cayenne-laced rim.
Mosto gets plenty creative with good old-fashioned tequila, too. Their curiously cloudy Green Hornet merges Don Julio Reposado with Chartreuse, coconut puree, and jalapeno. As a creamier, more delicate offering, it beckons the gentle flavors of Mosto's lightly-oiled Ono -- served with sea salt and fresno chile. It doesn't take too daring of an imagination to view this combo as a Mexican response to sashimi with unfiltered sake. Whichever comparisons the cocktail evokes, a margarita is doubtful to be among them. This is an entirely different species of drink altogether.
As if it weren't the first thing you'd notice, directly behind the bar is a rotating spit of pineapple and pork. They are the unmistakable underpinnings of al pastor. If all else fails on Cinco de Mayo (it is on a Monday, after all), turn to the pineapple and pork. The harmonic collision of salty, savory, sweet, and spicy is guaranteed to work well with any cocktail featured here. And at $1.50 a taco, you will have arrived at something else worth celebrating. Enjoy your Cinco de Mayo Weekend, San Francisco.