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Lime prices skyrocket in Albuquerque

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With the price of limes surging, local restaurants are finding ways to cut back on their usage. Los Cuates has temporarily switched to serving key limes — comparatively smaller, stronger and, for now, less expensive — with its margaritas, as pictured.

With the price of limes surging, local restaurants are finding ways to cut back on their usage. Los Cuates has temporarily switched to serving key limes — comparatively smaller, stronger and, for now, less expensive — with its margaritas, as pictured.

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

At the Chile Rio restaurant in Albuquerque, certain meals are arriving without the typical tangy light-green garnish.

At Cervantes, bartenders are perching a little less fruit on the edge of each margarita glass.

With a lime shortage causing prices for the citrus fruit to soar, local restaurants are making tweaks to help offset surging costs.

“It has impacted us pretty severely,” said Jeannine Kosel, co-owner of Chile Rio, a Mexican restaurant on Pan American Freeway.

Weather, a bacterial tree disease and criminal activity in Mexico – the source of most limes consumed in the U.S. – have all been cited for the rising price of limes.

A case that Kosel said used to cost around $18 is now running about $100.

Chile Rio goes through roughly a case of limes a day, mostly for margaritas but also for dishes like guacamole and as a garnish on many other items.

While the restaurant is still using fresh-squeezed juice in its margaritas and elsewhere it’s deemed essential to the flavor, the kitchen is skimping on limes where it might be superfluous.

“On all of the critical items, we’re still using fresh lime,” she said. “We’re just not using it on items that it doesn’t really make a difference, unless it’s requested.”

Kosel said if prices remain high, the restaurant may have to resort to buying pre-squeezed lime juice.

Los Cuates and Little Anita’s, two New Mexican food chains with multiple Albuquerque locations, switched from regular limes to key limes a few weeks ago, said Dennis Carpenter, president of the company that owns the chains. Key limes – comparatively smaller and stronger – are now served with the Mexican beers and margaritas, and have temporarily replaced regular lime juice in the pico de gallo recipe.

“They’re still very expensive, but they’re roughly about 60 percent of the price of the regular limes,” Carpenter said.

Los Cuates continues to stock regular limes for customers who request fresh-squeezed margaritas, he said.

Marina Luger, general manager at Zacatecas Tacos & Tequila in Nob Hill, described limes as “essential” to the restaurant’s food and said they are still being used in the dishes.

Drinks, though, are another matter.

“We’re making do by cutting the limes we use to garnish drink(s) into smaller pieces and, instead of using them on all beers, we’re using them on a specific few,” she said via email.

Cervantes, which uses limes only at its bar, is also adjusting.

Manager Iris Metzgar said this week that the restaurant paid nearly $90 for its last 40-pound case of limes. She said the price had been climbing but simply skyrocketed about a week ago.

“It’s just ridiculous now,” she said.

In response, Cervantes has cut in half the amount of lime it’s putting on each margarita. Customers can get more by request, but many patrons have no lime interest to begin with, Metzgar said.

“The price is just outrageous right now, so it’s not worth (people) throwing them away,” she said.

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