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Surging Lime Prices Impact Restaurants Nationwide

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Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

Lime prices have skyrocketed across the US. A shortage of limes largely caused by bad weather and a bad harvest in Mexico (where most of the limes consumed in the USA come from) has doubled the price from this time last year. With a case of limes costing almost $100, one produce importer tells USA Today: "We're at an unprecedented price point." Restaurants and bars that are particularly dependent on lime for margaritas, guacamoles, and the like have some tough decision to make: they can pay the additional food cost, pass on the cost to the customers by raising the price, or find a way to make do without it.

Several restaurant owners are choosing to buy fewer limes. Instead, they're buying lemons. In San Antonio, La Fonda operator John Berry tells Reuters that he has gone from paying $14 per case of limes to almost $100. To deal with the change, he has been substituting lemons for limes. Omaha's Guaca Maya has been doing the same thing. The owner tells KPTM that almost every dish had been served with a lime garnish but now he "save[s] them for the things we really need to use them for ... like guacamole and Mexican beer."

Eater SF notes that several bars in San Francisco are also doing substitutions. According to Alcademics, the Alchemist and other San Francisco bars are actually "using more acid phosphate and lactart in new drinks." The Los Barrios chain in Santonio has simply removed the lime garnish from their margaritas; owner Louis Barrios tells Reuters: "Ninety nine percent of the time, people don't squeeze it into the margarita anyway." Danny Herrera is the GM of Austin's Fonda San Miguel and tells KXAN that like Los Barrios they've been doing away with lime garnishes wherever possible, only providing lime wedges to customers who ask. Stuck paying almost $100 a case, Herrera says: "We are already on a Friday or Saturday spending about $500-$600 on lime costs."

As high as those costs might be, some restaurants are choosing to just absorb the cost. The NYC chain Rosa Mexicano hasn't made any adjustments to its menu yet. Corporate chef Christian Plotczyk tells CNBC: "We use a lot of fresh-squeezed lime juice behind the bar and in the kitchen, and we've really had to eat the cost because you can't substitute anything else for fresh." He has told his team to be careful not to waste their limes and says that if prices don't drop soon the group will "probably have to pull limes off some dishes where it's not necessary." Plotczyk's point about not being able to substitute anything for fresh juice is echoed by Adolfo Gomez of Mezcal in San Jose. In the CBS News video below, Gomez says for now he's continuing to make his margaritas with the fresh-squeezed lime juice his customers have come to expect. He also says he doesn't want to raise the price. He's hoping lime prices go down by Cinco de Mayo so he doesn't have to make major menu adjustments. Go, watch the video:

Video: Mexican Lime Shortage Putting the Squeeze on U.S. Customers

· U.S. Lime Market Squeezed by Shortage in Mexico [USA Today]
· Mexican Lime Shortage Putting the Squeeze on U.S. Customers [CBS]
· Lime Shortage Sparks Cocktail Cost Crisis at Local Bars [ESF]
· All Price Hikes on Eater [-E-]