Absence makes the heart grow fonder. I loved the Hot and Cold Margarita at Cielo. I don't remember much else about the restaurant, since the food and service were forgettable — yet for years I couldn't find a suitable replacement for that cocktail. Plenty of places have infused tequila, but I've learned the hard way (can I apologize to my intestines?) that throwing some peppers and tequila together in a jug doesn't make for a great infusion. But now, after an extensive search, I've finally found a new, hot margarita — at Rioja, one of those rare places that just does it right. The food at Rioja is unreal and the service beyond excellent, but what I appreciate most is the bar, which is inviting, comfortable and serves up specialty cocktails that aren't just variations of something someone tried at Bennigan's. Instead, Tony, my favorite Rioja bartender, works hard to come up with inventive cocktails. For the Loca Hot ($10), Sauza Blanco Tequila is infused with peppers — both the standard jalapeño and the Fresno variety. The latter are hotter than jalapeños and have thinner walls, which lets the tequila extract the pepper's intensity, giving the infusion the perfect amount of heat without making you need to apologize to your intestines. After the tequila is infused for at least 36 hours, it's mixed with Agavero tequila liqueur (a blend of blue agave añejo and reposado tequilas with the essence of damiana, a flower indigenous to the mountains of Jalisco), sweet and sour and a splash of orange and lime juice in a glass with a sugared rim. Oh, Loca Hot, I just left you and I miss you already! That's true love.
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