Lime shortage squeezes LI Cinco de Mayo celebrations

In this Monday, April 28, 2014 file photo,

In this Monday, April 28, 2014 file photo, a bartender crafts a margarita cocktail in Los Angeles. Photo Credit: AP

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A lime shortage is putting the squeeze on Cinco de Mayo.

Long Island restaurants gearing up for Monday's celebration noted the fruit commonly used as garnishes in Mexican dishes and drinks has soared in price in recent weeks.

Some restaurants -- gasp! -- have started replacing lime wedges with lemon. Others plan to charge more for popular lime margaritas.

A 40-pound carton of limes in New York State cost $16 to $36 a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The same carton now costs $80 to $100.

"You have to cut back," said Maria Mones, owner of Maria's Mexican & Latin Cuisine in Nesconset, who has slashed her weekly lime purchases. "We use limes in our cooking, so you have to absorb the cost no matter what," she said. "But as far as garnishing things, we have to cut back."

The national shortage is largely attributed to two factors: bad weather in Mexico, where much of America's limes are grown; and an incursion of drug cartels south of the border into the citrus trade.

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The price shot up so much that Salsa Salsa, a burrito bar with several Long Island locations, had to stop buying limes for a few weeks, said Megan Hearn, who manages the Port Jefferson eatery.

"We were just using lemons for a while," she said.

The biggest price spikes came in March and April, when a carton cost nearly $130. For many local restaurant owners, there was little to do but absorb the added expense.

"It's just part of the game," said Marc LaMaina, owner of Lucharitos in Greenport. "I'd rather just get through it than have a customer not come back because we raised the price on them."

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