For a city that can’t seem to get enough Mexican restaurants, Chicago hasn't seemed to embrace the michelada quite like it's taken to the Bloody Mary. At its best, this South-of-the-Border beertail is a refreshing, pleasantly spicy and lightly effervescent beer Bloody Mary—mixing tomato juice or salsa, lime, spices (to the maker’s taste) and light beer in a chilled salt-rimmed glass. In other words, it’s the ideal companion to chips and guac, carne asada tacos and long, sticky Chicago nights on the patio. At its worst, well, just think of the most unbalanced, watered down, tinny airline Bloody Mary mix you’ve ever had...then add a few ounces of light beer. Here are six micheladas done right, some classic options and some more unique options as well. Salud!
It’s not uncommon to see the crowd at least four deep on a Friday night at the bar of this tiny, popular Pilsen taco joint. But the skillfully made tacos and flavorful bebidas make the oft-long wait times worthwhile. The michelada—mixed with Clamato juice, hot sauce and a heavy dose of Worcestershire—is spicy and savory, making darker Negro Modelo its ideal beer mixer. This umami-rich beertail is also the perfect match for a few carne asada tacos, piled high with lightly toothsome, juicy steak and sharp housemade pico de gallo.
Like all its cocktails, West Loop taco bar Bar Takito’s interpretation of the michelada is unique and full of flavor, starting with the glass. The salted rim coats your lips with a sweet burn from two types of pepper, citrus and a little sugar. And the Tecate-laced michelada inside is one of the hottest of the group, helped by fiery Peruvian peppers and further seasoned with celery bitters, fresh lime juice, Worcestershire and Yucateco hot sauce. The gradual dilution of the Tecate sidecar brings a welcome cool-down.
A miniature, iceless michelada arrives as part of a little drinking trio that offers a gentle primer on Mexican drinking culture at this Czech-inspired restaurant. The concentrated chela combines a few ounces of Tecate, a squeeze of lime juice and a healthy splash of vinegary hot sauce that leaves a lingering burn in the back of the throat. Alongside the michelada are a shot of clean, smooth tequila blanco and its customary companion, the peppery, jammy, blood-red house sangrita. (Do as the Mexicans do and sip them alternately, rather than chase.)
This airy, clubby Pilsen spot with lacquered concrete floors and TVs pulsing with Latin music videos is actually better known for its margaritas. But the michelada is a spicy, traditional-style sleeper. You pick your beer (Sol, Pacifico, Modelo, Negro Modelo or Victoria) and your heat level (mild or spicy, though both deliver a punch). It arrives in a massive, frosty mug that fits your whole beer at once, making it an inarguable bargain at $4.25. The Bloody Mary-esque flavor is balanced, savory and tingly from a good douse of hot sauce. The intense chili powder, lime and salt rim will numb your lips but keep you coming back, like a glutton for fiery punishment.
Bright and refreshing, Big Star’s orange-hued michelada blends fresh lime juice, housemade tomato salsa and a few ounces of easy-drinking Tecate, accompanied by the remains of a sweating, ice-cold can. Maybe that sprawling patio (and accompanying people-watching) is what pushes this perfectly balanced iteration over the top. Either way, it’s one of few micheladas that’ll make you want seconds.
It’s a strange moment when any standard-bearer drink is made with Miller Lite, but Mexican seafood staple El Barco Mariscos has good reason for using the unofficial beer of college in its michemato. The super-light beer both dilutes and adds pleasant fizziness to this classic version, blending Clamato (clam and tomato) juice, fresh squeezed lime juice, spices and lip-tingling hot sauce. (It also may be the reason it has—and needs—no ice). The hefty 20-ounce drink is lightly rimmed with fine salt that migrates into the glass as you drink. Note: the lighter Michelada Barco, with just Miller Lite, lime juice, hot sauce and spices, is ideal for washing down a plate of seafood.