Superbueno, a Mexican American cocktail bar in New York City, isn’t one of those places you just pop into for a quick round. Not if Ignacio “Nacho” Jimenez, the bar’s charismatic co-owner, has anything to say about it. Like Jimenez’s previous outpost, the beloved and now-shuttered Ghost Donkey, Superbueno is as much about the vibe—think of it as a cocktail bar meets a house party—as it is about the creative food and drinks.
The pendant lights suspended above the bar top are constantly swinging; the rhythmic Latin hits blaring inevitably incite dancing, especially after guests throw back a couple of the bar’s cult-favorite Green Mango Martinis; and the LED lights that illuminate the space in magenta or scarlet red have an exceptional ability to distort time. It’s all in the name of fun, which Jimenez considers as important as flavor—a sentiment that is clearly expressed in his playful cocktails.
“The menu honors various notable Mexican ingredients and dishes,” says Jimenez of the concise 10-drink list, which features a range of options, from low-ABV to more spirit-forward. “There is a little something for everyone.” One of the most popular drinks is the easygoing, yet sophisticated, Vodka y Soda, a crowd-pleasing highball layered with chile spice that takes the basic, underwhelming vodka-soda and turns it into a tropical, crushable serve.
As simple as the cocktail reads on the menu—“vodka, guava, pasilla, soda”— its development was anything but. “Guava is one of my favorite flavors, so I decided to develop a highball built around the fruit,” says Jimenez. He “played around with different approaches to make a minimalist-looking highball with lots of punch and flavor.” At the start of his creative process, he relied on an array of gloopy housemade guava syrups, but none fit the bill for his vision. After making about 10 versions of the drink, a member of his staff suggested clarifying the hefty syrup for a cleaner aesthetic and mouthfeel. Jimenez says this was his “aha!” moment.
To clarify the purée, he adds pectinase before letting it rest, allowing the enzyme to break down any of the cloudy pectin present. He then adds water to the mix and brings it to a boil in a saucepan. Once the pectinase-dosed purée reaches a boil, agar-agar powder (another clarifying agent) is dissolved into the mixture; after that rests and congeals, Jimenez strains the semisolid blend through a coffee filter. The result is a flavor-packed guava “water,” which Jimenez uses to create a cordial by acidifying the water with tartaric and malic acids and sweetening it with sugar.
With the guava portion completed, Jimenez felt he needed one more flavor dimension to make the cocktail stand out. “Mexicans love to combine fruit with a touch of spice to make this sort of sweet, sour and spicy combination,” he says. So he infused the vodka with pasilla chile pepper, an ingredient that also has dry fruit flavor notes that “play well with the guava.” Jimenez rounds out the spice and tropical tones with guajillo pepper, a component that he says also adds more color to the infusion for more alluring visual appeal.
To tie together all the elements of the Vodka y Soda, Superbueno adds a touch of Velvet Falernum to the mix before force-carbonating it all in a batch. The drink gets a guava salt rim—made of Maldon salt mixed with guava purée, baked at a low temperature until dehydrated—which echoes the sweet, sour and spicy theme.
The vodka-soda is one of the most basic, albeit popular, cocktail orders, but Jimenez and his team transformed it into something remarkable. And though it was originally conceived as a temporary, seasonal addition to the bar’s list of drinks, it has established itself as a menu mainstay and one of the bar’s bestselling cocktails. As Jimenez says, “The beauty of our Vodka y Soda is that nobody expects the vodka-soda to be elevated, but our minimalist take is full of surprising complexity for drinkers who give it a chance.”