Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana Lets Tamarind Shine in Cocktails

Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana is one of the few restaurants to celebrate this under-discussed aspect of Mexican cuisine — and even incorporates tamarind into its cocktails.


Volcanic black salt adds some smokiness.

Photo by Lance Yamamoto

Tamarind is one of the world’s most unusual foods. Sticky red-brown pulp, mouthwateringly sour yet boasting a unique smoky sweetness, hides in bulbous pods that hang heavily in thick clusters on a tree that is sui generis — unrelated to any other botanical genus.

Although originally from Africa, the tamarind tree was so valued that early humans carried its seeds with them and planted these wherever they settled around the globe — perhaps the earliest example of “crop exchange,” in which edible plants from one area are introduced to new continents. The tamarind’s journey was so successful that by the dawn of recorded history, it was already endemic to India, which is why we call it “tamarind,” Arabic — tamar-u’l-Hind — for “Indian date.”

A staple in the subcontinent, tamarind is the basis for many chutneys and a common souring agent in many Indian dishes. The tree also grows well in Burma, Thailand, and throughout tropical Asia, and to this day is a key ingredient in many Southeast Asian recipes.

Spanish explorers brought tamarind seeds to the New World, and by the 1600s it was already being incorporated into Central American cuisine; eventually its overseas origins were so largely forgotten that tamarind-based sweets and drinks are to this day commonly considered indigenous to Mexico and El Salvador.

Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana, on Eighth Street in Old Oakland, is one of the few restaurants to celebrate this under-discussed aspect of Mexican cuisine — and even incorporates tamarind into its cocktails.

“We take fresh tamarind pods, scoop out the pulp, boil it, purée it, and then strain it twice, because tamarind is very chunky,” said Alfonso Dominguez, who co-owns the restaurant with his mother, chef Gloria Dominguez. “We hand-make it this way every day, all natural, no additives. Almost no other restaurants make fresh tamarind paste like this, because it’s so time-consuming. But for us, it’s essential.”

While still unsweetened, this fresh tamarind paste has “a fantastic very tangy sour taste; we use it in salad dressings, and in our special tamarind mole,” explained Dominguez.

“But for drinks, we mix it with agave nectar, and then use the sweetened juice as the basis for two different cocktails: our signature Margarita de Tamarindo and the Benito Juarez.”

Like most cocktails, the classic margarita relies on a combination of sweet, sour, and spirit — normally triple sec orange liqueur, lime juice, and tequila. But not at Tamarindo.

“Our unique margarita has no triple sec. We use tamarind juice in its place, along with fresh-squeezed lime,” Dominguez said. “Because tamarind is often used in Mexican candies, people who grew up in Mexico get a wave of nostalgia when they first taste this cocktail — the flavor reminds them of childhood.”

The Benito Juarez is a more sophisticated, complicated drink.

“I invented the Benito Juarez to embody the essence of Oaxaca state, where Juarez — the symbol of our independence — was born,” Dominguez revealed, discussing the history of the legendary 19h-century Mexican leader.

“I make the Benito Juarez with mezcal, tamarind, orange juice, serrano pepper, rimmed with volcanic black salt,” Dominguez said. “The smokiness of the volcano pairs with the smokiness of the mezcal and the tamarind. Sweet, sour, spicy, smoky — every flavor hits you at once.”

Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana, 468 Eighth St., Oakland, 510-444-1944, TamarindoAntojeria.com

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