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Mezcal flight from Mírate
Sample agave spirits such as tequila, mezcal, sotol and bacanora in flights at Mírate in Los Feliz, as well as Mexican wines.
(Matt Egan)

A mecca for mezcal: These are the best agave bars in L.A.

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“You’ve got to put a bottle of mezcal on the ofrenda,” says Ivan Vasquez, owner of Madre Oaxacan Restaurant & Mezcaleria, with four locations across L.A. County and the largest small-batch mezcal collection in the U.S. “For me, and back in the villages, a bottle of mezcal has to be there.

“On Día de los Muertos, you drink a copita with your loved ones,” Vasquez instructs. “It’s the only spirit that keeps our loved ones alive. When I drink mezcal on Día de los Muertos, I’m reunited with my grandpa. Thanks to him, I was introduced to mezcal.”

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While tequila has had a couple centuries to gain an international following, the rise of mezcal and regional spirits like sotol and bacanora is more recent. It was only in the ‘90s that mezcal gained Denomination of Origin (DO) status, which restricts legal and commercial use of the word, and paved the way for it to be sold across the globe.

The spirit, which imparts earthy tasting notes, exploded in popularity over the pandemic, partially because of the heritage involved — mezcal producers, or mezcaleros and mezcaleras, often utilize methods that have been honed across generations and are unique to their family or village. The final product, Vasquez says, delivers a flavor that can be more layered and complex than wine.


Also known as maguey, the spiky agave plant has been revered by Indigenous Mexicans for millenniums, providing food, practical items such as rope and sandals and fermented beverages like pulque. When Spanish colonizers arrived with the still, agave wine was distilled into spirits like tequila, made exclusively from agave tequilana, and mezcal, which can be made from over 40 other agave types.

“Los Angeles is like the mecca right now for agave distillates,” said Rocío Flores, a mezcalera who grew up splitting time between L.A. and Jalisco and now hosts agave tastings and educational experiences, including the program at Guerrilla Tacos. “It’s probably the one place in the world where you can find the most diverse, the most amazing mezcals that you can’t even find in Mexico in one place all together.”

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The global appreciation for Mexico’s ancestral spirits has influenced the tequila industry too. For his part, Vasquez only works with small producers and serves tequila blanco exclusively — no reposados or añejos. When customers ask for corporate brands like Casamigos, he and his staff use it as an opportunity to educate.

“I tell them, ‘Let me bring you several options that are higher proof at a lower price’ and I ask them to enjoy it neat,” he says. “They’re just amazed when they try it.”


L.A. was already a great place to drink agave distillates, but these days the options are overflowing. Included on the list below are agave-focused bars that prioritize stocking small-batch producers and offer flights that encourage imbibers to sip in the traditional style. Some, like Vasquez, even sell rare bottles out of their bars. Whether you’re toasting in celebration or stocking up to savor with your ancestors on Día de los Muertos, these are the best agave bars in Los Angeles.

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Interior bar at Chulita with a bottle of mezcal and two shot glasses on the bar.
(Salty Shutters)


Venice Mexican $$
Serving Cal-Mexican cuisine in a beachy environment with wicker light fixtures, staghorn ferns and a cozy sidewalk patio, Chulita is so immersive that when you stumble out on Rose Avenue, you might forget it’s Venice Beach you’re ambling toward and not some relaxing Baja California destination. The breezy restaurant offers tequila and mezcal flights and organizes its agave list by type so you can explore lesser-known varieties like arroqueño and Karwinskii. All of the agave spirits here are small-batch using traditional production methods, and the menu also features house-made tepache and rotating farmers market agua frescas. The food? Tacos are served on Masienda’s heirloom corn or cassava flour tortillas, and thoughtful vegan options include sweet potato taquitos with fermented jalapeño aioli.
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Agave bar at Damian
(Araceli Paz)


Downtown L.A. Mexican $$$
The sleek, plant-filled space from Mexico City chef Enrique Olvera is often upheld for its modern Mexican cooking. But just as worthy of celebration is the agave collection at Damian, with small-batch labels and unique flight options, including one that showcases how flavors vary based on whether the mezcal was produced in a rainy or dry season, a selection of exclusive bottles not available to the public, two tequilas made in the style of mezcal, and little-known agave spirits from northern Mexican states. The restaurant also has noteworthy craft cocktails — the frozen yuzu margarita is a refreshing blend of floral and citrus that’s perfect on a warm day, and the tart Desert Bloom with sotol is balanced with prickly pear, lime and cucumber.
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Mezcal flights at Gracias Madre come with a thin orange wedge that are rimmed with a chili pepper spice blend.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Gracias Madre

West Hollywood Vegan Mexican $$
All of the spirits served at Gracias Madre are derived from agave, and the plant-based Mexican restaurant with locations in West Hollywood and Newport Beach is also committed to not supporting tequila brands that use diffusers, which allows the spirit to be produced faster for less money but compromises the natural taste. Here, you’ll find four agave flights catered to different preferences. The blanco includes a selection of blanco tequilas; the barrel-aged option offers one blanco, one reposado and one añejo tequila. One mezcal flight includes options made exclusively for the restaurant. Another lets you choose three mezcal varieties from the list. On Mezcal Monday select mezcal labels are 50% off. Prefer cocktails? Try agave-infused takes on an old fashioned and espresso martini. The raspados, or shaved ice cocktails, are particularly refreshing on the jungly patio on a sunny day, especially the guava option with tequila, seasonal fruit and cranberry-apricot chamoy.
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A glass of mezcal with orange slices coated in sal de chapulines from Guelaguetza.
(Alberto Escobedo)


Harvard Heights Oaxacan $$
The bright and lively Oaxacan restaurant that’s now run by the second generation of the Lopez family is renowned for its selection of moles, mezcal and other Oaxacan staples. It’s an even better place to sip agave distillates these days, with a brand-new bar featuring plenty of labels that are exclusive to the restaurant. Owners and siblings Bricia, Paulina and Fernando Jr. make frequent trips to Oaxaca where their parents have since retired, allowing them to source items directly. The agave inventory evolves seasonally, so even experts will find something new to try upon each visit. Flights are organized by whether imbibers identify as a beginner, intermediate or master, with complex and rare varieties offered in the more experienced tiers. Either way, servers are happy to walk you through the basics of a tasting, explaining that the spirit should be sipped instead of taken like a shot, where the agave is from and how it’s made. Mezcal tastings are served with slices of orange and a thick coating of sal de chapulines. Sit at the bar where you can chop it up with bartenders or on the colorful tented patio where mariachi bands play into the evening.
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Rocío Flores pouring a tasting of mezcal at Guerrilla Tacos
(Maya Bachmann)

Guerrilla Tacos

Downtown L.A. Mexican $$
The taco spot founded by Wes Avila and now led by Brittney Valles is an Arts District favorite for Mexican dishes with creative twists, like a poke tostada with crispy rice and a vegetarian taco with sweet potato, feta and fried corn, plus rotating specials from culinary director Crystal Espinoza and chef de cuisine Miguel Perez. The spirits list is a study in agave with mezcal, tequila, sotol, bacanora and raicilla options. Flights to try: brands produced in the highlands or lowlands, the bar’s best bottles or vintage pours. Mezcal flights include an introductory option, a vertical espadin tasting and “wild” varieties. Once a month, Guerrilla Tacos hosts Mezcal Monday with Rocío Flores, which includes a tasting of three agave expressions and snacks. She departs from the usual citrus as a garnish, which she says ruins the palate and instead sprinkles slices of tomatillo with sal de gusano for a raw salsa-like bite. She also serves churritos, a popular Mexican snack, for nostalgic appeal. For those who prefer mixed drinks, standouts include Bachata, with banana-infused tequila, amaro and horchata, and Summer Nights in Oaxaca, with reposado tequila, cacao liqueur, mole bitters and demerara sugar.
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Shot glass with mezcal and orange slices on the side
(Las Perlas)

Las Perlas

West Hollywood Bar/Nightclub $
Las Perlas has always been a bar rooted in fun. Whether at the original downtown location or the newer outpost in West Hollywood, it’s not unusual to see the dance floor crowded with patrons dancing cumbia or making loud, “Arriba, abajo, al centro, para dentro!” toasts. The bar also has an impressive agave list, including plenty of tequila, mezcal and sotol. Every other Tuesday it hosts the Agave Collective, which offers a welcome cocktail and three to eight pours of tequila or mezcal. It’s particularly special when agave ambassador Gabe Huerta educates attendees on specific varieties or production regions. The bar is hoping to grow the collective into a community of people interested in learning the culture and history of agave spirits.
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LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 08: Madre exclusive in the USA flight, featuring mezcal from Mezonte, Real Minero, Mal Bien, Ray Campero and Lamata inside Madre on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Madre Oaxacan Restaurant & Mezcaleria

Santa Clarita Oaxacan $$
There is arguably no better place to drink mezcal in the United States — possibly, the world — than Ivan Vasquez’s mezcaleria that serves as an ongoing love letter to his home state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Vasquez’s collection of more than 500 bottles is sourced entirely from small-batch producers. He also carries destilados de agave, agave-distilled spirits that can’t legally register as mezcal or tequila because they fall outside of the strict certification requirements.

Flights include one with bottles exclusive to Madre and another, “Taste of Mexico,” that offers four options from different Mexican states. You can request a map of Mexico and create your own flight with labels from 15 different Mexican states. Guests are encouraged to drink mezcal the traditional way, by sipping it neat to take in the unique floral, herbal, mineral and, yes, smoky notes. Cocktails are also available.

The food menu features Oaxacan recipes adapted from Vasquez’s mom, with highlights such as fried squash blossoms bursting with quesillo, a folded tlayuda with chorizo or cured beef or pork and a selection of vibrant moles.
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A selection of tequila and mezcal bottles with tasting glasses from Maestro in Old Town Pasadena.
(Paul Gonzalez)


Pasadena Mexican $$
Head to Old Pasadena where you’ll find this comforting Mexican restaurant from childhood friends Sergio Martinez, Paul Gonzales, and Emmanuel Gonzales, whose families all hail from the Jalisco highlands where tequila has a strong legacy. Maestro has over 250 tequila and mezcal bottles stocked at the bar, including small-batch labels, and the servers are skilled at offering recommendations or composing a flight based on your preferences. Whatever you decide on, expect it to be served with slices of orange and lime dusted with sal de gusano. Cocktails are given equal attention, such as the Campfire that includes torched rosemary that’s rimmed around the glass before the shaken concoction is poured in and a mezcal negroni with an ice cube that’s stamped with an M. A handful of margarita options and house barrel-aged spirits are also available to pair with soulful dishes like braised lamb shank and seared Hokkaido scallops with huitlacoche rice. Visit on Thursday evenings when a mariachi band serenades the restaurant. The chilaquiles are a must for Sunday brunch.
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Mezcal flight from Mirate with gooseberries and chapulines.
(Matt Egan)


Los Feliz Mexican $$$
All of the spirits and wines served at Mírate, a lush, open-air restaurant in Los Feliz, are Mexican in origin — whisky, rum, gin and even sake included. But beverage director Max Reis puts particular emphasis on the restaurant’s agave program, with about 30% of its bottles being exclusive, and regional distillates like sotol and bacanora offered in addition to tequila and mezcal (with an impressive selection of mezcal produced outside of Oaxaca).

Reis just launched a flight that includes mezcals produced in Guerrero, Durango and Michoacán, paired with a selection of cincho and aged cotija cheeses. For additional food pairings, you can’t go wrong with chef/partner Joshua Gil’s entire modern Mexican menu, including a quesadilla with funky huitlacoche corn and roasted squash with basil in a pipian verde sauce. If you insist on a cocktail, El Taquero with pineapple and lacto-fermented chorizo is like slurping down an al pastor taco yet somehow works brilliantly.
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Mezcal flight with an ofrenda from Nativo
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)


Highland Park Mexican $$
Nativo opened in November 2020, and somehow remains a hidden gem off walkable York Boulevard. The interior is moody and romantic, with a cozy bar, low tables, palms and Art Deco touches. The bartenders are incredibly friendly and will help you craft a unique agave flight based on your preferences or favorite brands. For $6 more, it’s worth upgrading to the “ofrenda” that pairs your flight with seasonal citrus sprinkled with sal de gusano, dried corn nuts, chapulines, Oaxacan cheese and a spicy house-made sangrita. Signature cocktails utilize spirits like gin and rum that are produced in Mexico, like *Goes to Condesa Once with Condesa gin that can also be ordered as a pitcher.

Nativo has switched up its ordering system as of late: Place food orders outside at the host stand and drink orders inside at the bar. The tacos are great, especially the mole verde with pork and chicken tinga, as is the generous bowl of shrimp aguachile, swimming in a spicy-piquant green salsa.
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Neat, a moody West L.A. dive bar, offers mezcal flights featuring small-batch labels.
(James Kei )


Rancho Park Bar/Nightclub $$
In the former Liquid Kitty space across the street from classic Mexican haunt Don Antonio’s is this moody neighborhood bar with red leather booths and faux-floral ceiling installations, as well as a noteworthy selection of mezcal. Agave aficionados will love it here, where the bartenders will gladly talk shop and geek out on the subtle taste differences between various agave types. Three agave flights are available, or you can tell the bartenders what brands or flavors you like and they’ll put something special together for you. Neat also offers flights of Japanese whiskey, bourbon and Scotch, in addition to signature cocktails like the Garden Grove with mezcal, chile liqueur, basil, watermelon and habanero.
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