When you think of a Mexican restaurant, you inevitably think of chips, salsa and margaritas. They’re three essential things to do well, benchmarks of the establishment you’re at. So, when I’m thinking of hitting a taco joint, I seek out house-made chips, fresh salsas and scan the cocktail menu to see what kind of spin they’ve put on a classic cocktail.

 With access to more information than ever and actively seeking new experiences, today’s customers are discerning ones. The ol’ premixed, margarita-in-a-jug, frozen slushie variation no longer cuts the proverbial mustard. To keep pace with changing tastes and changing times, many establishment have to elevated their margarita game in order to attract new customers and keep old ones. Babalu’s Tapas & Tacos is just such a place.

 Nestled in the corner of Eastgate Shopping Center is the newest incarnation of Babalu’s – a franchise which first opened in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2010 – following locations in Memphis, Birmingham, Knoxville and Charlotte. Spacious layout and spartan décor compliments a small courtyard with outdoor seating, giving the place an open, efficient, and friendly feeling. The inviting setting is ideal for the tapas and tacos, and conducive to sharing plates with friends.

 Of course, they have margaritas. A lot of margaritas.

I’m a fan of a little bit of heat, so I ordered the fresno & pepper cilantro variation. The drink starts with a base of blanco tequila, along with the usual suspects: agave nectar, Triple Sec, and fresh-squeezed sour mix. But as the name suggests, cilantro is muddled in and thin strips of fresno peppers (close cousins to jalapeños) are added. When fresnos turn red in color they are not only hot, but also exhibit a smoky flavor. Cilantro gives the drink a herbaceous profile balancing out the heat from the peppers and the bite of the tequila.

Cilantro is an odd herb whose taste is perceived differently from person to person. My father despises the stuff while I, on the other, hand love it. I can honestly say this was the first time I had ever experienced cilantro in a cocktail, and it was a tasty and satisfying experience.

What’s the oddest ingredient you have seen in a cocktail? Leave us a message, send us a tweet, #ThirstyThursday!