Food & Drink

Micheladas Are the Summery Beer Cocktail You Should Be Drinking

Wherever you are, how to recreate LA's best choose-your-own-adventure beer cocktail at home.

micheladas michelada los angeles beer cocktail cerveza
Photo: Cole Saladino/Thrillist; Illustration: Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

People love to gripe about Los Angeles. Whether it’s mistakenly stating that the city lacks a subway (which is false; the LA metro had a total estimated ridership of 93 million in 2019), or complaining about the “impersonal sprawl,” there’s always something to whine about among the warm weather and swaying palm trees. But there is one thing that I know Angelenos can hold over the head of pretty much any other city in the states: Los Angeles has damn good micheladas. Lots and lots of micheladas.

If you’ve yet to experience the thrill of drinking one, expect tang, salt, and heat stirred into a light Mexican lager. Micheladas can be made in so many ways -- it’s really a choose-your-own-adventure type of beer cocktail -- but typically starts with tons of fresh lime juice and salt before including Maggi or Worcestershire sauce, tomato juice or Clamato, and dealer’s choice of hot sauce.

The handful of micheladas I’ve had in New York have been fine. At times, watery and lacking in heat. But unlike Los Angeles, you can’t just find a michelada anywhere. You have to seek it out. Don’t expect it to be served at baseball games, random sports bars, or any general watering hole you end up at after work.

Fernando Lopez, the founder of I Love Micheladas and the Michemobile -- a VW bus you might spot around Los Angeles slinging the spicy concoctions -- suspects that it has something to do with distance. “Micheladas are one thing in Mexico and they become something else in LA,” Lopez explained to me on a recent phone call, “so when it gets exported further, it gets even more watered down.” 

The micheladas you’d find in Oaxaca, for example (where Lopez’s family is from), are dark brown with bolder flavors and less tomato juice. “You get more of a savory flavor that’s kind of in your face. Everything in Oaxaca is about big flavors,” he said. Moving further north, closer to the border towns, is where the redder micheladas come in. There, tomato is a forward note and the drinks may also be referred to as clamatazos rather than just michelada. Even the term chelada usually refers to a light beer served with just lime and salt. “But, in the majority of Mexico, if you order a michelada preparada it’s always a more brown, darker beer,” Lopez confirmed.

That’s not quite the case in LA, where most of the micheladas are tomato red, but Lopez sells both iterations out of his VW bus on weekends at Smorgasburg and online through I Love Micheladas. And if you ask 10 Angelenos where their favorite spot for micheladas is, you’ll get 10 different answers. There’s Salsa & Beer in North Hollywood, Diablo over in Silver Lake where you can get michelada popsicles, Las Perlas for extra spicy micheladas and Mezcaleros, both of which are in Downtown LA. Of course, you can also get Lopez’s version of a michelada at his family’s James Beard-lauded restaurant, Guelaguetza, over in Koreatown.

Breweries have caught wind of the success of micheladas and now produce canned versions. Modelo, which happens to be my personal favorite beer for miches, manufactures them, as does Los Angeles-based brewery, Golden Road, in a partnership with Estrella Jalisco. Tio Rodrigo is a California born brand of craft-beer micheladas. Even Budweiser and Bud Light have concocted their own recipes. 

I asked Lopez what it is about micheladas and Los Angeles. Why here and why now? He conceded that demographics might have something to do with it, but also suggested micheladas have paved their own way to popularity based on how damn tasty they are: how they’re a feeling of summer in a city that’s almost always bathed in sunshine. As L.A. Taco described, “Under some bonafide city heat, ‘miches’ are becoming synonymous with the weekend, the sort of relaxing elixir that perfectly accompanies some fresh mariscos or tacos.” They’re a memorable drink.

“When we built the Michemobile,” Lopez said, which he approximated as roughly eight to 10 years ago during the food truck craze, “we were still struggling to explain what a michelada was to every person. We take a lot of pride in the fact that we were the ones out there in the street pounding the pavement and explaining to the people what micheladas are.” Lopez believes that the rise of the michelada coincided with the rise of LA’s own restaurant scene. They debuted the Michemobile at the Los Angeles street food fair years ago, and now the rest is history.

“It’s easy to drink. All those flavors are just reminiscent of being on the beach or being in your backyard,” Lopez remarked wistfully. “These are just flavors that have been partnered up with summer, fun, and good times.”

Fernando Lopez's Morita Michelada

1-2 dried Morita peppers
¾ cups tomato juice
5 oz orange juice
¼ cup lime juice
1 ¼ tbsp sugar
1 tbsp sea salt
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Tajin for rimming
Cold Mexican lager (you can substitute this for a lime or grapefruit flavored sparkling water)

Fill a small saucepan with enough water to cover the chilies and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the chilies to the hot water and allow them to soften and get tender for about 20 minutes.

Remove the chilies from the water. Allow to cool and come to room temperature. Add chilies and the rest of the ingredients, minus the Tajin and beer, to a blender and blend everything until smooth. Strain into a cup with a pouring spout.

Rim a cold beer glass with Tajin. Pour about 3 ounces of the mix and then 12 ounces of cold lager to combine. Serve cold.

And if you don't feel like doing all of that, you can always buy the I Love Michelada mix.

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Kat Thompson is a staff writer at Thrillist and drinks way too many micheladas. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn