Paloma: The Working Man's Margarita

May  1, 2014

When he's not busy running the cocktail program at New York City's Maialino, Erik Lombardo is giving us the rundown on all things spirits -- and showing us the best ways to drink them. 

Today: A working man's margarita in preparation for this year's fast-approaching hot weather.

Paloma from Food52

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We're skipping right over spring and looking straight ahead to summer, and we're taking the Paloma with us. 

But truth be told, this drink -- a refreshing mix of tequila, grapefruit, soda, and lime -- fares just as well at a outdoor dinner party in May as it will at the beach on a 90-degree day in August. (For the latter, just add solo cups.) The Paloma, Spanish for dove, is the working man’s margarita -- but it's as simple, and as wonderful, as a gin and tonic.

Typically it's made with grapefruit soda, but I'm a fan of making my own sodas using fresh fruit syrups and club soda. It takes only a little extra planning, and it's well worth the effort. Zest a grapefruit (if you can find white grapefruit, use it -- this slightly more bitter and funky variety holds up better to being made into a syrup) then juice it, and add the juice to the zest. Stir in an equal volume of sugar, and shake the mixture to dissolve. (Recruiting a friend helps.) Avoid heating the mixture to speed up the process, since heating it will replace the bright fresh flavor of the grapefruit with a darker candied flavor; think of the difference between a fresh orange and marmalade. Heating will also extract more bitterness from the zest, which is not what we want in the finished product.

Let it rest overnight, strain it the next day, and you’ve just made a non-alcoholic grapefruit cordial. This same method can be applied to any citrus -- just add club soda, and you've got yourself a fruit soda.

More: While you're at it, pick up some extra club soda for your Americanos.

Paloma from Food52

For those of you that wish to eschew the homemade route, Jarritos still makes a classic grapefruit ?soda for a Paloma. It’s crisp, tart, sweet, and refreshing, with the slightest hint of bitterness. Jamaican Ting is also a fantastic option if you can find it.

Regardless of which soda you choose, you cannot omit the lime. Grapefruit is tangy and bright, but for real tartness you need either lemon or lime, and the lime is far superior when paired with grapefruit. For tequila, stick with a nice blanco or plata. Bright, grassy, and just a little vegetal, they serve as the perfect complement to the funky and spicy citrus in the grapefruit.

If you’re using pre-made soda, feel free to just mix your drinks to taste, but for the fresh version, combine the following ratios in a shaker for a quick shake before straining over fresh ice and topping with club soda. Some cocktails are like air-conditioning, but the Paloma isn’t one of them. Rather, it makes you feel like you were born and raised in the tropics: You’ll still be hot, but you’ll revel in the heat. 


Serves 1

2 ounces tequila
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce grapefruit syrup
Top with club soda
Salt rim garnish (optional, but highly recommended)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here. 

Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Erik Lombardo

Written by: Erik Lombardo


Steve G. July 28, 2017
I love your site but I find my self thinking "Ain't nobody got time for that." I'm not trying to be a hater. I even have a couple of grapefruit trees and lime trees in my yard. I understand the desire to stuff from scratch. But seriously simplify your lives. Here is a hack to accomplish the same end point. Tequila (recommend Hornitos plata or any silver) over ice. Add Fresca and a splash of orange liqueur. If you want add a lime wedge. Salt is not necessary. Huge calorie savings over a syrup. This is my go to drink when the temps are over 100 degrees.
meganireland May 13, 2015
This is my go-to drink. I love margaritas, but the Paloma takes the cake. I use San Pellegrino Pompelmo instead of monkeying around with making a grapefruit syrup and club soda. I'll use Jarritos if I can find the grapefruit flavor. I also sprinkle a pinch of salt right into the drink--sounds weird, but I swear by it.
PS007 September 22, 2017
Salt in cocktails isn't weird at all. Many bartenders use this little trick in a variety of drinks to heighten flavor, just like cooking.
nancy E. May 13, 2015
What makes this a marguerita? Just because it has tequila in it.
why not make a simple syrup ahead of time, keep in fridge, and combine that w/the fresh grapefruit? I'd also like this with vodka
Marcella May 21, 2014
this has been my drink for years and I've tried it every way possible (including making my own grapefruit soda) nothing beats the classic squirt soda. If you want an amazing smokey vegetal taste, pair squirt w/Tapatio Blanco. Incredible!
Robin May 13, 2014
Your variation sounds awesome. I'm going to try it.
lonewolf May 12, 2014
Enjoyed these fab drinks this evening. I mean REALLY enjoyed. Follwed recipe exactly. Using two graprefruits, because I was having the gals over. I have never been a margarita fan, though I have enjoyed a good tequila shot with a beer long before I developed a particular fondness for bourbon. These are exquisite in their simplicity. I stocked up on tequila. I plan on a summer filled with palomas.
Kinsey May 11, 2014
My variation: simple syrup infused with Meyer lemon instead of grapefruit, very junipery flavored gin instead of tequila, skip the salt rim ( not my thing, anyway). Excellent!!
Robin May 5, 2014
Those of us who take statin drugs can not drink grapefruit juice. What about blood oranges to replace the grapefruit? They have a similar taste.
Kinsey May 11, 2014
See my posted variation
Paloma C. May 1, 2014
This amazing cocKtail is specially for me!!!! ;)
walkie74 May 1, 2014 what are the alternatives if you have a nasty allergy to grapefruit? I'm guessing it's not a Paloma without it, right?
Carmen P. May 1, 2014
Use Squirt soda or any grapefruit flavored soda, since is just the flavor and not the natural juice might work, or any citrus flavor soda would work too, this are delish!!
Fogdweller May 1, 2014
This couldn't be better timed. We're having our annual heat wave in the SF Bay Area and this looks like it will hit the spot!
j May 1, 2014
sounds delightful. but let's skip the Solo cups, yes? it's 2014 and there are many alternatives that are reusable (Kleen Kanteen, etc.) and make you look way more classy. :)