America's Best Margaritas

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America's Best Margaritas
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America's Best Margaritas

Bars are shaking up the standard margarita—and these versions are worth their salt.

Image Credit: Jody Horton

Matchbox Margarita, The Matchbox, Chicago

Refined over the years since 1995, the Matchbox margarita consists of Cointreau, reposado tequila, fresh-squeezed lemon and lime, powdered sugar, and egg whites. Powdered sugar is also used to rim the glass instead of salt. The recipe is so popular that nearby Taco Joint added it to the menu. And that’s good news for fans of the drink, as the tiny wedge-shaped bar at The Matchbox fits only 19 stools. The bar also offers margaritas with house-infused apricot tequila and with mango or passion fruit purée.

Image Credit: Anthony Mata

Pomegranate and Sloe Gin Frozen Margarita, Pastry War, Houston

Other pomegranate margaritas rely on the fruit juice; Bobby Heugel’s consists of whole pomegranate seeds and Plymouth sloe gin (a gin-based liqueur flavored with strawberries). These ingredients are mixed into the house margarita along with the frozen option of your choice: strawberry and balsamic; habanero and mango; or mole and ginger. Bubble tea straws come in handy for sucking up the pomegranate seeds. The drink goes down smoother on weekdays from 4 to 6:30 p.m., when margaritas are $5.

Image Credit: Julie Soefer

Bark at the Moon, La Puerta, San Diego

La Puerta’s spiciest cocktail features a heart-burning chile pepper mixed with Dos Lunas Reposado, fresh lime, agave nectar, and the special ingredient of muddled serrano. Its fire isn’t for everyone, though; the Whole Lotta Love (made with Azuñia Reposado and agave nectar) is the best selling of the nine available margaritas. But on Wednesdays and Thursdays, the biggest crowd-pleaser is the frozen margarita, only $5.

Image Credit: John Audley/Be Water Photo

Salt Air Margarita, Oyamel, Washington, D.C.

Salt air—a foamlike substance made with the powdered emulsifier sucro—crowns the top of Oyamel’s most popular margarita, which also features Milagro Silver, triple sec, and fresh lime. There’s a long list of mezcal and tequilas available to keep you going through a hearty meal of antojitos (“the little dishes from the streets”), papas al mole, and tacos with handmade tortillas inspired from all corners of Mexico.

Image Credit: Greg Powers & Audrey Crewe

Modern Margarita, Tivoli & Lee, New Orleans

Even though most of the cocktails at this southern restaurant draw on whiskey, mixologist Kimberly Patton-Bragg’s Modern Margarita has proven to be a top seller. Hibiscus (sourced locally), jalapeño-infused Chinaco blanco, Solerno Blood Orange liqueur, and lime juice are shaken and double strained over rocks. San Pellegrino Pompelmo soda gives a citrusy tang to this boozy refresher. Patton-Bragg—who will mix cocktails on demand—is also partial to the Shake the Devil Off margarita. The cinnamon of Bittermens Hiver Amer balances the sour taste of grapefruit cordial and house-made vanilla over Cabeza tequila.

Image Credit: Miguel Solorzano

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By Natalie Taylor

No detail is too trivial for New York's Empellón Taqueria, which stocks more than five types of salt just for its margaritas. One specialty salt is spiked with chiles and ground-up maguey; another, infused with ginger, tops off the spiced pear margarita.

"Salt helps to draw out other flavors and balance the tartness of the drink," explains Peter Vestinos, a Chicago-based cocktail consultant.

America's best margaritas, recommended by tequila experts and some of the country's top mixologists, range from spicy to sweet, shaken to frozen. We wanted to toast the classics as well as quirky variations on the standard recipe of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice. What all these margaritas share with Empellón's is a thoughtful commitment to quality—and complementary—ingredients.

The esteemed margarita at Tommy's Mexican, a San Francisco institution, substitutes agave nectar (honey water) for triple sec with such success that it's been replicated by bars across America.

Houston's Pastry War supplies a bubble tea straw to suck up the whole pomegranate seeds in its frozen margaritas. In New Orleans, Tivoli & Lee draws on local inspiration, adding native hibiscus to its margarita. These versions don't require limes, an advantage at a time when a lime shortage has been making headlines and raising prices nationwide.

Whether you're celebrating Cinco de Mayo or just the end of the workweek, fill your glass with one of the finest margaritas north of the border.

Check out the slideshow above for America's best margaritas.

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