I first encountered the Paloma at a Mexican restaurant in Brooklyn, served in a tall terra cotta tumbler, with a chili-salt-encrusted rim, and a side of guacamole. The tequila-and-grapefruit soda drink wasn’t invented there—it has a murky history but is often assumed to hail from Mexico (though some tie its origin to the American grapefruit soda Squirt).
In any case, I was sold, and the Paloma became my go-to summer tequila drink, instead of the margarita. It’s somehow potent and refreshing all at once, and there’s just something about the bitterness of grapefruit that gives a drink a bit of backbone, an earthy structure beneath the sweet and tart.
Palomas are easily made at home with just a few versatile ingredients (you stocked you summer bar, right?) and they’re perfect for a party, or just for a heat wave.
You might be tempted to sub in grapefruit juice for grapefruit soda here, but I would strongly encourage you not to. (I tried making this drink with grocery store ruby red juice, and it was awful.)
Grapefruit soda has the right balance of sweet, tart, and bitter, and the bubbles are really important, too. Squirt or Jarritos grapefruit (toronja) are ideal, Izze is also delicious and a little lower in sugar, and San Pellegrino Pompelmo is good, too. Fresca could work in a pinch. (If you are intent upon real juice or want a lower-sugar version, a combination of fresh-squeezed juice and grapefruit-flavored seltzer is your best bet.)
Use vodka or gin instead of tequila and you have Greyhound or a Salty Dog, depending on whether or not you salted the rim. Use rum and you have a Flamingo.
If you are a mezcal fan like I am, you can swap in mezcal for tequila, or go half and half for a little smokiness, which, added to that beautiful grapefruity bitterness, is kind of magic. You don’t have to make the chili rim, but it feels so very extra, and takes seconds to whip up.
Paloma with a chili salt rim
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp sugar
4 tsp salt
2 ounces tequila or mezcal, or a mixture
juice of half a lime (keep the rind)
grapefruit soda to top (about 6 ounces, depending on your glass size and how much ice you pack in)
Mix together the chili, sugar, and salt in a small bowl. (This is enough for probably a dozen or so drinks.) Swipe the lime rind around the edge of a highball glass, and dip it in the chili salt.
Carefully add ice to the glass, then the tequila and lime juice. Top up the glass with grapefruit soda.
Submit to summer.