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Mexican restaurants in U.S. squeezed by surging lime prices

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Mexican restaurants in the United States are being squeezed by a sudden jump in the price of limes, an essential ingredient, which has led managers in places like San Antonio that are a hotbed for the cuisine to alter recipes.

"Mexico received some heavy rains that destroyed a large amount of the lime crop, so with limited supplies we are seeing lime prices skyrocket," Bryan Black, director of communications for the Texas Department of Agriculture, said on Thursday.

Texas like most U.S. states receives most of their limes form Mexico.

John Berry, who runs La Fonda, a prominent Mexican restaurant in San Antonio, said on Thursday the price he pays for a case of limes has jumped to nearly $100 from $14 last year.

"Real simple," Berry said. "We don't buy them. We substitute lemons."

Limes are used in guacamole and to garnish beers.

Serving a margarita without a lime garnish is burning at the heart of Louis Barrios, who runs the family-owned Mexican restaurant chain "Los Barrios." But he's doing without.

"Ninety nine percent of the time, people don't squeeze it into the margarita anyway," Barrios says.

A combination of factors has prompted the spike in lime prices. Most limes consumed in the United States come from the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Colima, and Guerrero, which have been hit by an unusual combination of cold weather and flooding, wholesalers said.

Shipments have also been disrupted by violence attributed to drug gangs, they said.

The high prices are not expected to end any time soon, according to wholesalers.

(Reporting by Jim Forsyth; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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