By Cristina Alonso
December 12, 2014
DC Premiumstock / Alamy

Made from blue agave plant, tequila is perhaps one of the first associations that foreigners have when they think of Mexico. Not all of these preconceived notions are positive–drunk Spring Breakers having wet T-shirt contests in Cancún might come to mind. And that’s a shame, because tequila is one of the most interesting and most delicious spirits you can find.

The first rule of thumb for learning to appreciate tequila: avoid shots, which not only get you wasted super-fast, but also make you feel like you just swallowed rubbing alcohol. The second rule: Head to one of the following bars or restaurants, where not only is the selection of tequilas good, but the atmosphere is ideal. And finally, don’t be afraid to ask your server for advice. Should you start with a cocktail? Will you like añejo, reposado, or joven better? Ready? Now have a sip and say “salud!”

Salón Tenampa

Since its birth in 1925, this has been one of the most hallowed drinking halls in the city. Locals and tourists alike flock to the sprawling cantina in downtown’s Plaza Garibaldi to munch on antojitos (tacos, quesadillas, sopes and more), and to sing along to mariachi classics. Of course, drinking tequila from the extensive list of producers—which come from all over the country—can only help for inspiration.

Salón Covadonga

The name and food may hail from Spain–seafood, tortilla de patata–but the atmosphere in this Roma cantina is all Mexico City. From young artsy types and business people having after-work drinks to old folks playing dominos, the all-are-welcome vibe is fueled in great part by the cantina’s tequila offerings. Try the paloma: tequila and grapefruit soda in a salt-rimmed glass.

Restaurante Bar La Opera

Travel back in time at this charming restaurant, open since 1876, which has ornate chandeliers, velvet curtain, and a bullet hole in the ceiling–reportedly the work of Pancho Villa. Amid the free flow of tequila, don’t forget to order their famous sea snails in chipotle sauce.

La Bipo (Coyoacán)

With three locations (Coyoacán, Roma and downtown), this bar is inspired by old-school cantinas with a touch of hipster cool. Enjoy their tequila offerings (such as Gran Centenario Añejo, Don Julio Reposado, cucumber-flavored Verdano Blanco 1800) or one of the house cocktails (the Caperucita Roja has vodka and fresh raspberries), and their famous hibiscus quesadillas on the side.

Restaurante Bar Montejo

Perhaps the epitome of the after-work cantina, this multi-level house, with cool black-and-white-tiled floors, serves dishes from Yucatán such as sopa de lima (chicken and vegetable soup with bitter lime wedges) and suckling pig. Wash it all down with an ice-cold tequila reposado.