By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published May 24, 2007 at 5:39 AM Photography: Andy Tarnoff

For this latest Milwaukee Challenge, we brought the readers of right into the fray, letting you tell us who to pit, head-to-head, for Milwaukee's best margarita.  In a tight race, your top two choices were La Fuente, 625 S. Fifth St. and Cempazuchi, 1205 E. Brady St.  It's not necessarily who we would've chosen, but the readers have spoken. And that's all we needed to hear.

Over the course of a week, we visited both restaurants, ordering one house margarita, salted and on the rocks, from each.  We took into account taste, strength, price ($5 at La Fuente, $6.25 at Cempazuchi), presentation and atmosphere (La Fuente's deck is great; Cempazuchi has a well-decorated interior).  But unanimously, our group was blown away by Cempazuchi's margaritas. And we left scratching our heads with La Fuente's offerings.

Read on for our analysis of Milwaukee's best margaritas (according to our readers) and feel free to comment on our opinions using the Talkback feature below.

Julie Lawrence
Staff Writer
Pick: Cempazuchi

When I arrived at La Fuente during happy hour to sample a margarita –- a drink that I’ve both praised and cursed, usually in that order, for years -- I was expecting to go home with a serious after-work buzz.

Having not eaten since noon, I attacked the basket of chips in hopes that they would soak up what I anticipated to be a hearty helping of tasty tequila. For some reason, my drink arrived sans salt –- something we’d all mentioned to the waiter that we’d wanted –- and although everyone else’s was salted, it looked more like a light dusting of table salt along the rim rather than the usual thick granules we’d been accustomed to.

The first sip of my lime-flavored margarita on the rocks tasted weak -– almost watery –- and, unfortunately, that seemed to be the group consensus. Stirring did not remedy the situation. Whereas usually the taste and smell of tequila seems to linger in my pores well into the next day, this drink seemed devoid of that authentic tequila burn and the snappy tartness of lime juice. Perhaps it was a fluke batch, but this $5 drink reminded me of the cheap, pre-mixed margaritas you find in a plastic bucket on the bottom shelf of the liquor store. 

Needless to say, the happy margarita buzz I’d prepared for never surfaced, despite my drink disappearing in less than 10 minutes. What saved the day was the beautifully decorated, sunny patio, and I have to admit that the cactus glasses are a nice touch. La Fuente’s outdoor ambience is undeniably charming.

Somewhat baffled by our La Fuente experience, we pressed on to Cempazuchi. The house margarita here -- La Ganga -– has always been a personal favorite of mine, as well, and this round proved to be as delectable as I’d remembered. The presentation was impressive –- no cactus glass, but the salt on the tumbler glass was plentiful and I appreciate that the waiter shakes the drink in a stainless steel shaker at your table and pours it in front of you. La Ganga only lost points when it came to the lime garnish –- it was too small and thin, making squeezing it into your drink virtually impossible. Overall the drink was smooth, not too sweet and involved just enough tequila to justify the $6.25 price tag.

Heather Leszczewicz
OMC Reporter
Pick: Cempazuchi

I'm a big fan of margaritas, although I usually go blended versus on the rocks. There's just something about margaritas that make me think fun times.

Although the outdoor atmosphere at La Fuente was great, especially on the afternoon that we went, the house margarita on the rocks was not up to snuff. It was watery, there wasn't enough salt and it was a weak drink -- one that I seemed to down faster that a normal alcoholic beverage. If I had wanted something virgin, I would have ordered the virgin strawberry daiquiri instead. I found myself compensating for the lack of salt by sprinkling the chips sitting in front of me with salt.

Cempazuchi's drink, on the other hand, was just right. It wasn't too strong, the salt laced the rim of the glass fully and it was something I could nurse over a prolonged period of time. The presentation of La Fuente's drink was better, in a festive cactus glass, while Cempazuchi's was a bit plain in its tumbler. However, the Cempazuchi server pouring the drinks at the table from a shaker made a huge difference. You knew it was something not made in mass quantities and that should definitely be appreciated.

If I were to choose the place I'd get a margarita from after the tastings, it'd be Cempazuchi. I wish that I could take La Fuente's atmosphere and Cempazuchi's margarita and put them together for a great time out.

Drew Olson
Senior Editor
Pick: Cempazuchi

Margaritas, to me, are like pizza. Even when they are bad, they’re still pretty good.
But, quality is important. And, Cempazuchi clearly had the better drink. I know that La Fuente has its die-hard fans. It was hard not to enjoy the atmosphere as we soaked in a sunny late afternoon on the patio. But, the bottom line is that the drink was lackluster.
Nobody at our table did a spit-take. The margarita wasn’t horrible. It just didn’t stand out. I didn’t see it mixed and it was hard to pinpoint what was wrong, but the phrase “mass produced” came to mind. It almost tasted like one of those bottled mixes you buy at the store (shudder).
The margarita from Cempazuchi seemed like it was made with a little more care –- and possibly a better brand of tequila or triple sec. The Cempazuchi drink had a bit more of a lime kick, which is essential for a proper margarita.
It was served in a standard rocks glass, as opposed to La Fuente’s kitschy plastic vessel with the cactus on the stem. The flavor of the drink seemed punchier and stood up well to lunch.
Bottom line: Cempazuchi's margarita made you think about ordering another when the second bowl of chips arrived. La Fuente's had me thinking about getting a Tecate instead.

Molly Snyder Edler
Staff Writer
Pick: Cempazuchi

Although I have slurped down many La Fuente margaritas, I am not particularly smitten with them. They are most likely made from a mix, which makes them taste too sweet, and the amount of rim salt is very inconsistent, ranging from caked on to just a few granules. Once upon a fake ID, I might have appreciated these sugary sweet drinks, but these days, I prefer something that tastes more like a cocktail and less like spiked Kool-Aid.

Take the margaritas at Cempazuchi, for instance -- these are the real deal. The ingredients are poured into a martini shaker and shaken up and poured at the table. They are ice-cold, masterfully measured and not too sweet. On our recent trip, I was slightly disappointed with my lime wedge, which was almost the size of a fingernail clipping, but overall it was the best margarita I had ever drank beyond my own backyard. (In my opinion, albeit biased, my husband mixes the meanest margaritas in Milwaukee.)

Bobby Tanzilo
Managing Editor
Pick: Cempazuchi

Thanks to a long, self-imposed tequila ban, my margarita experience is pretty dated, so I like to think I went in to this challenge without pre-conceived notions of which would be better. I like both restaurants -- and we enjoyed both in great settings: the patio at La Fuente on a beautiful day and the lovely dining room at Cempzuchi -- so that certainly didn't figure in my choice. While La Fuente clearly won marks for presentation thanks to the kitschy cactus glass, Cempazuchi served up a tastier and higher quality margarita.

The salt at La Fuente had the taste and feel of table salt, which just doesn't cut it, and the drink itself was thin and watery, suggesting it had been made weak or had been sitting for a while before reaching the table (how can one account for the latter at 4 p.m. on a Monday in a not-very-busy restaurant?). Did they forget to put in the tequila? The Cempazuchi example, on the other hand, was flavorful, with just the right hint of alcohol. Surprisingly, there was no real competition here.

Andy Tarnoff
Pick: Cempazuchi

It wasn't even close.  The difference between these two margaritas is about as different as Nogales and Isla Mujeres, Mexico (inside joke, but if you've been to either, you'd know what I'm talking about). The Cempazuchi marg was mixed in individual shakers right in front of our eyes. They clearly used decent tequila and that rocky salt you'd expect on the rim of your standard (but not fancy) tumbler. The lime was a little puny, but for a house margarita, Cempazuchi was top-notch.  I can only imagine what they could whip up with some El Jimador, Cazadores or Don Julio (Am I becoming a tequila snob? Do I require an intervention or another shot?).

La Fuente, on the other hand, was so underwhelming that we considered returning to give them another chance -- though we ultimately decided that violated the spirit of the competition. After all, we went at about 4:30 p.m. on a Monday afternoon.  Sitting outside on their lovely patio, it wasn’t crowded, so they couldn't provide the "busy" factor as an excuse.  Other than the kitschy but cute Saguaro cactus margarita glasses in which they were served, it went straight downhill the moment these "pobre" cocktails showed up. Served with tiny and shrively limes, the drink was weak and watery, and tasted like it came from a mix.  It was rimmed with what appeared to be table salt.  Other than the cool, patio atmosphere, this was hardly a $5 margarita. A little pricier at Cempazuchi, but well worth it.