Cocktail Food Pairing Chart to Tempt Your Tastebuds 

Published May 6, 2022
Friends toasting with cocktails at dinner table

That pre-dinner Negroni you always order while waiting for your table to become available can be more than just a happy hour drink. Cocktails add interest to any meal and there is fun world of cocktail and food pairings out there that make some pretty killer matches.

Cocktail Pairing: 101

This may conjure up an image of a party atmosphere room from the 1970s with an hors d'oeuvres table loaded with shrimp cocktail; and while that is pretty dreamy, there are many more possibilities when it comes to cocktail and food pairings. Cocktails are incredibly diverse and their individual characteristics can be adjusted to match a specific dish, resulting in a delightful gastronomic experience. Whether you are sipping a sultry rum-based cocktail or a garden-fresh, gin-based drink, there are some basics to consider when it comes to pairing them with food.

Matching & Contrasting Flavors

Like often goes with like, but contrasting profiles can make good matches, as well. A smoky Mezcal cocktail with a charred eggplant enchilada makes a brilliant pairing as smoky flavors align. On the other hand, the contrasting flavors of a spicy pulled pork sandwich are great when countered with the cooling characteristics of a watermelon margarita.

You want your drink to vibe on the same frequency as your food, enhancing each other rather than competing. A powerful drink needs an equally powerful plate. Otherwise, the duo will be out of balance. An airy French 75 would get lost if paired with ribs and barbecued beans, but when served with a brunch of frittata and waffles, the flavors sing.

Taking Into Account Body

Another important piece when pairing cocktails and food is to take into account the body of the cocktail. Just as certain flavors can overpower others, the body of a drink can do the same with food. A Manhattan is full-bodied and warm; it needs a substantial pairing so as not to overshadow the food. A classic charcuterie board loaded with cured meats, cheeses, and salted nuts is a great option for a Manhattan, whereas a lightly seared piece of Lingcod with green goddess dressing would be best with something like a white vermouth spritz, which is a much lighter drink.

Thinking Within a Cuisine

When in doubt, think about matching within a cuisine or region. Food and drink flavors that originate within the same cuisine or region are innate matches. Finally, as with most pairings, keeping it light and fun and using your intuition about flavors is an important part. This is food and drink, after all! It should be a creative outlet and allow for some playful pairings.

Classic & Creative Cocktail Pairings

It's no surprise that margaritas are on the menu at a taco joint. It's an obvious match. Whether you are looking to pair up some classics or make more of an unexpected match, these cocktail and food pairings pack a flavorful punch.

Cocktail and Food Pairing Chart

Negroni

Classic Pairing: Charcuterie board with piquant, aged Parmigiano Reggiano

Unexpected Pairing: Mac & cheese spiked with chili flakes

Paloma

Classic Pairing: Al Pastor tacos

Unexpected Pairing: Hot fried chicken sandwich

Gin martini

Classic Pairing: Oysters on the half shell

Unexpected Pairing: Herby potato salad with red onion

Vodka martini

Classic Pairing: Potato and caramelized onion pierogies

Unexpected Pairing: Smoked trout smørrebrød

Mojito

Classic Pairing: Grilled prawns & crab cakes

Unexpected Pairing: Pad Thai Gai

Dark & Stormy

Classic Pairing: Spicy chicken gyoza

Unexpected Pairing: Sushi with pickled ginger

Whiskey Sour

Classic Pairing: Brisket with lemony roasted carrots

Unexpected Pairing: Radicchio, orange, fennel, and feta salad

Bloody Mary

Classic Pairing: Bacon, eggs, and biscuit

Unexpected Pairing: Fritto misto (fried small bites of fish and vegetables)

Gin Gimlet

Classic Pairing: Sashimi

Unexpected Pairing: Lemon ricotta stuffed squash blossoms

Aperol Spritz

Classic Pairing: Margherita pizza

Unexpected Pairing: Lavash, falafel, tzatziki, and hummus

Making That Match

The next time you make your way over to the bar cart to mix a drink, think about pairing that concoction with your dinner. Consider matching or opposing flavors as well as the body of the drink to create your own fun and playful combinations.

Was this page useful?
Related & Popular
Cocktail Food Pairing Chart to Tempt Your Tastebuds