We've had a soft spot for the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant ever since the early days, when there was only one restaurant in the group — the Fort Collins original — and the three-margarita limit was easy enough to get around, if you were friends with your server. (It felt as if every college kid in Fort Collins worked there at one time or another, so that wasn't hard.)
The Rio wasn't always known for its food, but in recent years, as those college kids graduated, had families, settled down and discovered the restaurant's outposts in Boulder, Denver, Greeley and Lone Tree, founder Pat McGaughran and his team realized that customers were looking for more than just tequila and beer.
Seasonality has become a focus, according to CEO Jason Barrett, with a fall harvest menu and other changes to the food slate based on what's coming from farms in Colorado and beyond. And what's in season right now? Blood oranges, which Barrett says are at their best in February. And so the Rio will be pouring its blood orange margarita, along with zingy citrus-based dishes to match, from February 4 through March 2.
A winter spinach salad brightened with wedges of blood orange and grapefruit and a blood orange-chile vinaigrette makes summer feel a little closer, and a beach vacation preview comes in the form of lobster tacos with avocado salsa and blood orange butter. (Butter on a taco? Don't scoff; just enjoy.) Even churros get a citrus hit with zest in the batter, which goes great with the chocolate and dulce de leche dipping sauces.
The seasonal marg rings in at $10, but you'll be able to get it for $2 less on National Margarita Day, which happens to fall on February 22; chalk that up to either coincidence or divine intervention. The full blood orange menu will be served at all Rio Grande locations; see riograndemexican.com for details.
The Rio remodeled its Boulder cantina last year, and hopes to do the same with the LoDo location in 2020, possibly in the fall. Barrett says the company is also contemplating opening smaller, more streamlined versions of the Rio Grande, to be called Little River. Those changes are a ways down the road, though, and right now there's a blood orange margarita or two — but no more than three, we promise — waiting to be sipped. If you want to make your own blood orange margarita at home, the Rio Grande has shared its recipe:
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Rio Grande Blood Orange Margarita
6 ounces ice
2 ounces tequila (Maestro Dobel Diamante tequila preferred)
1 ounce orange liqueur
2 ounces fresh blood orange citrus mix (recipe below)
Half of a lime
Fill a shaker with ice. Jigger all the liquid ingredients into a shaker and shake by hand. Pour into a highball glass filled with ice. Squeeze the lime into the cocktail and garnish with a blood orange wheel.
Blood Orange Citrus Mix
8 ounces lime juice
8 ounces blood orange juice
Half-cup white sugar
Pour the sugar in a two-cup measuring cup. Add warm water until the volume reaches two cups. Shake and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Using a citrus squeezer, juice oranges and limes. Strain and measure 8 ounces of each after straining. Add orange and lime juice to sugar water. Mix thoroughly and enjoy!