Smoky and flavorful, mezcal is often sipped on its own or simply paired with salty snacks in Mexico. But as the variety of agave spirits available in the United States expands, chefs are experimenting with interesting pairings meant to accentuate the richness and savoriness of many mezcals. Sure, you can sip on mezcal with tacos or nachos, but there’s a whole world out there of pairings that are bound to make you love this liquor even more.
We asked chefs across the country to weigh in on pairings that have gotten them excited lately, and the results make for an impressive, creative list. Here’s what they came up with:
The Best Foods to Pair With Mezcal, According to Chefs
- Goan cuisine
- Cheese plates
- Coconut desserts
- Tomato salad
- Salsa, queso, and guacamole
- Chicken siu mai
- Pork gyoza
- Tuna ceviche
“The food of Goan cuisine is heavily influenced by the Portuguese. The use of vinegar for curries is very prominent, specifically toddy vinegar, which is made from coconut sap that is retrieved from stems and is then left to ferment for four to six months. The distinct flavors of Goan cuisine are due to the traditional cooking methods that were used by the community. Years ago, you could see clay pots over wood fires, spices were hand-pounded and ground, and the food was slow cooked in those pots. These techniques make Goan cuisine a little smoky and spiced, and that makes me feel that it will really pair well with mezcal.” —Swapdan Das, chef de cuisine, ROOH, Palo Alto, Calif.
“With its smoky, complex nature, mezcal pairs better with cold or room-temperature food than hot food. Mezcal at room temperature accentuating an interesting cheese plate is a very thoughtful way to begin a meal. A perfect pairing for a quality mezcal would be a cheese plate centered around a washed-rind cheddar-style cheese such as ‘Goliath’ from McGrath Cheese Company in the Hudson Valley, N.Y. Rounding out the plate with some fresh Cape gooseberries, local honeycomb, and pickled mustard seeds adds complexity to the pairing.” —Alex Napolitano, executive chef, INNESS, Accord, N.Y.
“I really like pairing mezcal with desserts! The lingering aroma in your mouth pairs well with coconut and vanilla, and it’s great with Southeast Asian coconut desserts. I like adding it to my Vietnamese coffee to make a riff on an Irish coffee. The mezcal is fantastic with the condensed milk, dark roast coffee, and chicory.” —Kevin Tien, chef, Moon Rabbit, Washington, D.C.
“I love pairing mezcal with a tomato salad with lots of herbs. The savoriness of the tomatoes and spiciness of Thai basil goes great with mezcal. I serve it with a drizzle of really bright olive oil and a squeeze of fresh orange. ” —Colin Wyatt, executive chef, Twelve, Portland, Maine
“This smoky liquor is a perfect complement to any food with spicy and vibrant ingredients like the Asian shrimp avocado salsa I feature at the restaurant Sociale. When eating a spicy food, sipping a mezcal will enhance the flavors of both the food and the beverage. Mezcal [also] pairs well with chips and salsa with guacamole and queso dips.” —Martin Murch, chef and co-owner, Good Eats Group, Chicago
“My favorite unlikely mezcal pairing is Del Maguey’s Crema served with our chicken siu mai. The mezcal has notes of vanilla, coffee, and orange that play well with the savory roasted chicken, the earthiness of wood ear mushrooms, and the goji berry’s delicate sweetness.” —Carlos Cruz-Santos, head chef, China Poblano by José Andrés, Las Vegas
“I like pairing mezcal with pork and cilantro gyoza. The smoky and herbal notes from the mezcal accentuate the toasty flavor of the gyoza crust and freshness of cilantro.” —Mitsunobu Nagae, chef, l’abeille, NYC
“When somebody asks me what food I would pair mezcal with, the first thing that comes to mind is seafood. Del Maguey Vida is one of my favorite types of mezcal because of its smoky and citrusy tones, and it’s perfect to pair with my tuna ceviche, which is currently on this season’s menu. This tuna ceviche has sweet, tangy, and fruity notes that make a perfect combination to enjoy with the mezcal.” —Marcela Longas, executive chef, Yellow Door Taqueria, Boston