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Food + Drink

America’s Best Margs

If you can’t make it to Mexico for Cinco de Mayo do the next best thing: order yourself a margarita. Charlotte Steinway rounds up America’s ten best

See recent posts by Charlotte Steinway

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Best Spicy: Los Feliz, New York City

This Lower East Side drinking den has over 150 types of tequila and doles out killer margaritas, served by the glass or the pitcher. Their “Jalapeño Delight” variety packs quite a punch — it’s made with your choice of cilantro, grapefruit, or pineapple; blended with fresh lime, organic raw agave, and house-made jalapeño and habanero-infused El Jimador Blanco. Sip with upscale Mexican fare like Alitas de Puerco—mini achiote-rubbed pork shanks, served with plantain goat cheese cornbread.

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Best Frozen: Mariano’s Hacienda, Dallas

Inspired by the Slurpee machines at 7-11, Mariano Martinez fashioned the world’s first frozen margarita machine out of a defunct frozen yogurt maker in 1971 (it now resides in the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History). Forty-two years later, Martinez’s eponymous restaurant still doles out the famed frozen margs alongside signature dishes like brisket tacos and stuffed poblano peppers.

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Most Original: Curra’s Grill, Austin

Our award for quirkiest margarita goes to this SoCo spot, which blends a frozen number from avocado and serves it with a wedge of lime in an oversized wine glass. Well, the city signs don’t read “Keep Austin Weird” for nothing. Décor that’s heavy on fluorescent Modelo signs and Mexican tchotchkes, plus a casual, diner-like atmosphere round out the offbeat vibe.

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Best Fruit-Flavored: Santeria, Portland

This downtown PDX hole-in–the wall shares a bathroom with the city’s oldest strip club and it also doles out a surprisingly upmarket blackberry margarita called “The Sinful,” with syrup made from with fresh Portland blackberries (described as “local and organic; so Portland”) and 100% agave tequila. Couple this potent marg with a few rounds of the bar’s $2.50 tacos.

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Best Mezcalarita: Frontera Grill, Chicago

Leave it to Rick Bayless, the James Beard-awarded Top Chef alum, to craft a perfect union of two rarely-paired boozes: Mezcal, tequila’s smoky cousin meant for sipping, and brandy. Chicago’s Frontera Grill is home to his much-loved Mezcal Margarita, which includes Oaxaca’s Del Maguey Single Village artisanal mescal, 10-year-old Torres brandy, Peychaud bitters and limonada, all shaken tableside for extra points.

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Best To-Go Margarita: Superior, New Orleans

Served in a Styrofoam cup, NOLA bar Superior’s lime green-hued concoction is meant for drinking while meandering by the shops, bistros and galleries of Uptown’s Magazine Street —because unlike most American cities, New Orleans doesn’t prohibit imbibing in its streets. But if you’re not in the mood for a roadie, grab a seat to chow down on signature mesquite grilled dishes like pescada asado—fresh fish served with grilled veggies and rice.

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Strongest: Rio Grande, Boulder

Chain eatery Rio Grande is renowned for its highly potent margaritas — so potent, in fact, that the restaurant imposes a strict three-drink maximum. Sip slowly and take in the mountain views from their Boulder outpost’s street-level patio or rooftop terrace and sidestep the hangover with an order of their open-faced braised pork tacos or Alaskan snow crab and shrimp enchiladas.

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Best Margarita with a View: Nepenthe, Big Sur

A Central Coast staple since 1949, this Big Sur restaurant is known for the awe-inspiring views afforded by its expansive cliff-side terrace. Arrive early for dinner and enjoy a South Coast Margarita — a fresh mix of Herradura Tequila, Cointreau, Grand Marnier and lime — while watching the sun set into the Pacific.

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Best Use of Fire: El Compadre, Los Angeles

This Sunset Boulevard haunt has been serving up its signature “Flaming Margarita,” (a frozen margarita adorned with a blue flaming lemon wedge) since 1975. The sultry lighting, deep red banquette booths, and nightly mariachi band only adds to the Mission-style restaurant’s kitschy 70’s Mexican vibe.

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Best Classic: Taqueria Lower East Side, New York

With an L.A. theme running throughout (the walls are lined with Dodgers and Lakers paraphernalia), as well as some of the city’s best — and cheapest — Mexican grub, it’s easy to forget you’re in the heart of NYC’s Lower East Side. The two-year-old eatery serves up margaritas done right: The $8 house version is satisfyingly tart, packing a powerful punch of fresh lime juice.



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