May 29th, 2014
12:30 AM ET
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(Travel + Leisure) 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.

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.

Spiced Pear Margarita - Empellón Taqueria: New York City
Chef Alex Stupak’s buzzy restaurant pushes the boundaries of what we consider Mexican food. And director Noah Small’s cocktails get just as creative. Case in point: the spiced pear margarita at Empellón Taqueria (one of two New York locations). Poire William—an eau-de-vie made from Williams pear—adds an extra sweetness to Tapatio Reposado and pear purée. This margarita is topped with a ginger salt, one of many specialized salts. One of its specialty salts, sal de gusano (“worm salt”), a salt spiked with chiles and ground-up maguey, is dusted onto orange slices served alongside mezcal.

Matchbox Margarita - The Matchbox: Chicago, Illinois
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.

Pomegranate and Sloe Gin Frozen Margarita - Pastry War: Houston, Texas
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.

Bark at the Moon - La Puerta: San Diego, California
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.

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.

Modern Margarita - Tivoli & Lee: New Orleans, Louisiana
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.

Tommy's Margarita - Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant: San Francisco, California
Co-owner Julio Bermejo has earned the title of U.S. Ambassador to Tequila for his repeated trips to Jalisco. And all that research has earned a loyal following for this institution (est. 1965), where the signature margarita combines agave nectar, agave tequila, and freshly squeezed lime juice. The recipe has been reproduced by bars across America, including the Regent Cocktail Club in Miami. Tommy’s Mexican also stocks more than 100 reposados—tequilas that have been aged in oak barrels.

Classic Margarita - Mayahuel: New York City
This isn’t the first time Mayahuel—named for the goddess of the agave plant—has made it onto a “best margarita” list. Credit goes to Philip Ward, who makes his Classic with tequila, Cointreau triple sec, and fresh lime juice. Margarita-inspired cocktails include the Señorita, which uses agave nectar and Scotch infused with oranges instead of Cointreau, and the Broxburn, which subs in Drambuie.

La Belleza - Gracias Madre Restaurant: Los Angeles
This vegan Mexican restaurant is just as bold with its cocktails as it is with its cooking. La Belleza is one of Jason Eisner’s creations, a sparkling margarita of tequila blanco, strawberry balsamic shrub, lemon, and rosé wine, hand-carbonated in a perlini (a shaker pressurized with carbon dioxide). Pair it with chef Chandra Gilbert’s gorditas or flautas de camote (rolled tacos filled with sweet potatoes and caramelized onions topped with guacamole and cashew nacho cheese).

Margarita La Condesa - La Condesa: Austin, Texas
Pineapple juice, Damiana liqueur, and agave nectar sweeten La Condesa’s classic margarita. For an extra kick, mixologist Nate Wales salts up the rim with lemongrass and cactus. This restaurant in Austin’s trendy Warehouse District features the city’s largest selection of 100 percent blue agave tequila and mezcal.

El Diablo - Lone Star Taco Bar: Boston, Massachusetts
The laid-back Lone Star is the kind of place you go to scarf down tacos and wash down Mug-aritas (twice the size of a regular, for only 50 percent more money). But don’t be fooled: the staff take those drinks seriously. Among the selection of artisanal margaritas and tequila-based cocktails, El Diablo stands out for its spicier twist on the traditional margarita: reposado tequila, mezcal, lime, jalapeño, and habanero agave syrup served over ice with a chili-lime salt rim.

Get the rest of the list at Travel + Leisure: America's Best Margaritas

More From Travel + Leisure:
Best Tacos in America
Best Tapas Restaurants in the U.S.
America’s Best Beer Bars

Don't get too schmancy with your margarita

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Filed under: 100 Places to Eat • Bars • Restaurants • Sip • Spirits • Travel

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. iamthewheel

    Houston's K.C. has my vote for the best!

    May 30, 2014 at 12:05 pm |
  2. palintwit

    The next big meteor shower in Alaska will occur in January. Scientists and astronomers from all over the world will be traveling to remote areas of Alaska to observe this phenomena. Sarah Palin plans to attend and she will be easy to spot as she will be the only one with an umbrella.

    May 30, 2014 at 10:33 am |
  3. Erin

    Chimayo in Park City Utah has amazing margaritas. They're not too sweet and have just enough kick. The food is also exquisite but we go for the margaritas when on a ski trip :-).

    May 30, 2014 at 8:43 am |
  4. Justsayin1951

    3 of the examples seem to approximate an actual Margarita. The rest [w/chile, foam, non-traditional flavors] are simply foo-foo cocktails made with tequila.Please call them something other than a Margarita.
    A great refreshing tequila drink is Tequila, with grapefruit juice + a splash of cranberry juice [a "Brisa Marina"? Spanish for Sea Breeze].
    I say this, as someone raised in So Cal where we drank tequila, rather than beer- who, when I began traveling nationally for business, in the early-70's, [several times] couldn't even be served tequila in the North East… because the bars didn't carry it. That all changed with the Eagle's "Tequila Sunrise"

    May 29, 2014 at 8:01 pm |
    • Steve - Dallas

      Tequila. Cointreau. Lime juice. Period.

      May 29, 2014 at 11:01 pm |
      • D$andthebeat

        *Fresh squeezed lime juice.

        May 30, 2014 at 9:12 am |
  5. Sid

    I'm sure she's retired by now but there used to be a bartender named Carol who worked the swim-up bar at the Grand Wailea in Maui who made the most unbelievable mango margaritas! I don't know what her secret was but you could tell the difference between hers & the other bartenders. I wonder what she's up to now (haven't been there since '02)?

    May 29, 2014 at 4:03 pm |
    • iamthewheel

      U gotta love the Grand Wailea! I actually prefer the Four Seasons next door, however, the Grand is indeed grand! Hi Ho!

      May 30, 2014 at 12:08 pm |
  6. Eric C

    How in the world is one of the many San Antonio restraunts not included? New York? Chicago? D.C.? Boston? Come on the best margarita in the country would definitely come from Texas. San Antonio is the only city to have a city wide "Margarita Pour-Off" competition every year.

    May 29, 2014 at 3:22 pm |
    • Carn E. Vore

      To be blunt, it's because most people don't like Texas. It's like New Yorkers: they can't STFU about how great NYC is but fail to realize that no one but them cares.

      June 1, 2014 at 11:32 pm |
  7. RC

    Most of those sound waaayyy to sweet. The spi cy ones sound very interesting though. Might try something like that at home.

    May 29, 2014 at 10:47 am |
    • Tim

      Continental Divide in Charlottesville, VA. Been going there for years, best margaritas ever and no gimmicks. Just great tequila.

      May 29, 2014 at 6:09 pm |
  8. TNT

    The best margarita I've ever had was at this little saloon in Wall SD. (I think they had 2 saloons. Lol!) Strawberry, on the rocks with sugar on the rim. It was delicious! Or I should say, "they were delicious"!

    May 29, 2014 at 9:28 am |
  9. Tea Party Patriot

    Too many mexican words in this article. I am against that.

    May 29, 2014 at 8:45 am |
    • Juan Gonzalez

      You, Sir, are an idiot. Wake up and smell the margaritas.

      May 29, 2014 at 10:40 am |
  10. AleeD®

    El Diablo in Bahstin sounds more like a spi cy meal than a beverage. It'd be worth a hot shot.

    May 29, 2014 at 7:17 am |
    • you sound

      Like any man's meal and I don't mean that in a good way- loosely alee

      May 29, 2014 at 4:02 pm |
      • ™©JbJiNg!eŚ®™@

        A little late to the party aren't you? Borrowed a phone I see...

        May 29, 2014 at 4:09 pm |
        • Jerv@JBJ

          LM F AO! Borrowed a fracking phone and a used condom for his member-less existence.

          May 30, 2014 at 7:48 am |
        • ™©JbJiNg!eŚ®™@Jerv

          Yeah, this one seems a bit timid...prolly trying not to get banned again. Must be killing them that they can't jump in with some kneeJerk reaction! LOL

          May 30, 2014 at 8:40 am |
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