THIS PERUVIAN-BORN, AWARDTOTING BARTENDER IS MIXING MASTER COCKTAILS BEHIND A NEW WORLD RECORD TEQUILA AND MEZCAL BAR WITH THE MOST UNIQUE BOTTLES POURABLE
BY LAW BY ZACHARY WEG PHOTOS BY TOM ZAPCIC
For Carlos Ruiz, mixology isn’t merely a profession; it’s a mini universe. After relocating to the United States from Peru, the now 31-year-old chief mixologist at the lively Meximodo Cocina Mexicana & Tequila Bar in Metuchen has built a reputation as a wunderkind in the art of beverage-making. And he has the stripes to prove it.
Upon immigrating to Queens from Lima, Ruiz (now a Garden State resident) got his start in the restaurant industry as a teenager. “I got into it when I was 18 years old at the Ryland Inn in Reading ton Township,” he said. “ at was my first bartending job. I started as a busboy, then worked my way up, and finally got my start behind the bar.”
The restaurant business is notoriously quick paced, marked by bustling kitchens and long nights, but Ruiz finds joy in the urgency and creativity, particularly in the spirits side of the business.
“I fell in love with the history of alcohol and everything you can do with cocktails,” he said. “Back in the day, I remember seeing all these celebrity chefs on TV and thought, ‘Why aren’t we seeing bartenders featured?’ at interested me, so I went on Google and started researching different bottles of alcohol like Ketel One and Grey Goose, brands that have been in business for a long time. I started learning a little bit more about how each bottle was made and the history behind it. I wanted to know what made them successful.”
Intrigued and inspired, the hungry entrepreneur continued to dive deeper into the culture of spirits, garnering as much knowledge as he could about the craft. “I started studying flavor profiles and aromas,” he said. “I also have to give some credit to the Ryland Inn because the beverage director did a fantastic job with the cocktail menu. I call it liquid art, from the ingredients and glassware down to the presentation.”
The mixologist explained he finds the joy in every moment at work, but he takes his craft seriously. At Meximodo, Ruiz noted he has a platform to let his mixing skills sing. The restaurant the brainchild of famed local restaurateur Saurabh Abrol, proprietor of Le Malt Hospitality Group opened its doors last November.
“With Meximodo, my goal wasn’t to reinvent the classics,” he explained. “Our foundation is classic cocktails. Then I introduce ingredients that might surprise people, ingredients they may have not have seen in cocktails before. For example, since New Jersey is famous for its tomatoes, I incorporated local cherry tomatoes into one of our tequila drinks, the Manarita [a drink inspired by e Rock, featuring the star’s Teremana Blanco tequila]. Next, in honor of the state’s famous Jersey pizza, I added a little basil. I get a lot of inspiration from food, culture, and the space that’s around me.”
Meximodo’s cocktail and mocktail menu is a journey through color and flavor, featuring chile-spiked margaritas in three different spice levels and zesty mezcal-based libations with Luxardo and sparkling water. Ruiz’s signature drink is the Mexi Sangria.
“It’s made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Mira ores Chicha Morada liquor,” he said. “Mira ores is a Peruvian drink that’s been around since the ancient Incan Empire. They used to make it with purple corn and a bunch of different fruits. I decided to launch my own version recently, made from purple corn, cinnamon clove, pineapples, green apples, and lime. In the Mexi Sangria, I mix it with cabernet wine then add a splash of fresh lime juice, a touch of sugar, and pineapple rum.”
The drink, which “sells like crazy,” is a hit with his clientele, Ruiz said. As Garden Staters continue to pour into Meximodo, satiating cravings for creative tequila cocktails alongside authentic Mexican tacos, tostadas, and elevated mains like Nayarit-style red snapper, rib-eye carne asada, and pork belly dressed with pumpkin seed mole, the master mixologist is poised for even more success.
Meximodo Cocina Mexicana & Tequila Bar
5 Pearl Street, Metuchen 732.395.7767 / meximodo.com