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You would think a list of the best margaritas in New York City would include strictly Mexican restaurants with an endless supply of middle-of-the-table chips and salsa – but you’d be wrong. This LA transplant has been fiending for a good marg, so I decided to take it upon myself to round up New York City’s best which, as it turns out, weren’t in your run-of-the-mill places. The standard in craft cocktail circles is, of course, Tommy’s Margarita – just fresh lime juice, agave nectar, and blanco tequila. But imagine toying with beets, watermelon, saffron, or avocados in a margarita - that's what'll earn your marg the title for the best. With the classic tasting so good – which NYC margarita spots have done right by it? I found out for you.
“Calacas” at Hudson Clearwater – Greenwich Village – Jalapeno-infused tequila, beets, lime, agave, chili-lime salt
Hudson Clearwater has made the smart move of introducing spice with a jalapeno-infused tequila - one of the best ways to preserve the clean flavor of the pepper. Without out-there ideas – this is a lovely and well-composed cocktail. The beet is perhaps the friendliest of the vegetables we’ve seen creep into craft cocktails recently. Its mellow sweetness comes through with just a whisper of vegetal origin and just as you’re patting yourself on the back for having your daily dose of antioxidants, you get a light slap in the face from some chili-lime salt – it’s perfect.
“Avocado Cilantro Margarita” at Oficina Latina – Lower Manhattan – infused habanero tequila, triple sec, lime juice, avocado puree, cilantro syrup
Creamy avocado puree gives this margarita unprecedented body, and you know what? I like it. Orange rind comes through nicely from the triple sec and plays well with the zingy cilantro syrup (yes, you can taste it so if cilantro tastes like soap to you, this cocktail will not be your jam – sorry, Lizzie). Infusing actual liquors themselves is the best bet for retaining flavor structure within the cocktail and Oficina’s haberno infused tequila does just that.
It’s also topped with an entire hot pepper – so if you’re a masochist there’s that.
“Xantolo” at Dear Irving – Gramercy Park – lime, agave, spiced pineapple, reposado tequila, mezcal, aleppo, and red pepper
The “Xantolo” brings spiced pineapple into the expected lime and agave mix as well as reposado tequila and mezcal which add nice notes of oak, vanilla, and smoke. Top that all off with aleppo and red pepper and you’ve got a citrus beauty with a kick and a thin line of foam from a perfect shake. If you need me I’ll be the girl at the end of the bar sucking on the epic spiced pineapple wedge that comes with it.
“Watermelon Soju Margarita” at La Biblioteca de Tequila – Murray Hill – Rancho Alegre blanco, Korean soju, watermelon, agave, serrano pepper
You know how, at some point in the last decade, we realized ramen could work with a burger? I feel like that’s what just happened with soju in my margarita. I was nervous with the relatively low alcohol percentage of soju and high water content of watermelon that this drink would be over-diluted, but the bartenders here give it a carefully measured shake and the result is extremely satisfying. Serrano is my favorite pepper to work with in cocktails because it’s the most reliable – so each of these margaritas gets spice and you don’t risk getting that one fresno that isn’t spicy.
"Rose Margarita" at Top Thai Greenwich – Greenwich Village – Espolon, home-made rose syrup, combier orange, fresh lime juice, rose petals
Perhaps the most Instagrammable of the bunch – the Rose Margarita is almost too pretty to drink. Actually though – because they put crushed rose petals all around the rim, which I admit isn’t very practical. The petal pink margarita is so good, however, that you soon forget the inconvenience. Imagine all of the joy and bite from thirst-quenching citrus and vibrant tequila mixed with soft floral notes. It’s a must try. Yes, you’ll be the customer ordering a margarita at a Thai restaurant – but you gotta do what you gotta do.
“Apricot Thyme Margarita” at Vida Verde – Midtown West – lime, agave, apricot, thyme, tequila (frozen)
Listen – there are just times in life that call for a frozen margarita. This is an Apricot. Thyme. Frozen. Margarita… I feel like I don’t need to explain more. Vida Verde is the Mexican hotspot where you go to party, and there’s no better way to satisfy the basic inside of you than with this upscale and surprisingly complex slushie.
“Rosa de Fumar” at Añejo – Hell’s Kitchen – Montelobos Mezcal, beet Juice, prickly pear puree, St George Raspberry, Spring44 Fortify Bitters, fresh lime juice
St. George is one of those distillaries that does everything well – seriously, everything. I have yet to taste a liquor or liqueur from the Californian brand that is subpar, and their Raspberry Liqueur combined with the prickly pear puree (which is not the easiest to get p.s.) punts just the right amount of tart into this margarita (served up). Mezcal and a digestif was a smart choice – I like the grunge the smoke and bitters bring to an otherwise sweeter cocktail.
“Saffron” at Empellon – East Village – Saffron-infused tequila and mezcal, citrus, agave, saffron salt
Here’s the deal, cocktail virgins – saffron is one of the
most expensive spices you can decide to play with behind a bar. Which is why, in case you haven’t noticed,
you won’t usually find it behind one.
This cocktail is therefore gold, and should be cherished as such.
I might not even show up to the Cinco de Mayo party I RSVP’d to. This drink is the perfect holiday wing-man.
“Rosalita” at Fonda – Park Slope, East Village, Chelsea –tequila blanco, hibiscus, orange liqueur, agave, lime juice, hibiscus rim (on the rocks or frozen)
A very “in” flavor behind bars since about 2015, hibiscus is a perfect match for traditional margarita flavors. The Rosalita delivers both the floral and tart berry notes of hibiscus and swirls them in with lime’s buzz and orange’s pleasant sherberty side. Since hibiscus has noted health benefits, you should take it upon yourself to be responsibly healthy and head to Fonda.
“Pear” at Empellon Taqueria – West Village – Azteca Azul reposado tequila, pür pear liqueur, pear nectar, lime
Azteca’s slightly aged tequila gives off just enough vanilla to make pear its soul mate. Lime cuts through with fervor and brings you the crisp citrus New York’s spring air has us all craving. The only thing wrong with this cocktail is that Taqueria doesn’t include it on their weekend brunch menu. I could absolutely wake up to this glass of pleasant pear perfection every day.
“El Conejo Crudo” at Gran Electrica – DUMBO - chile infused Cimarrón blanco tequila, Pierre Ferrand dry curacao, carrot, orange, lime, ginger syrup
Oh Cimarrón – this blanco tequila is often mistaken for a reposado because of the complexity of its flavor profile. A little earth, a little vanilla, it doesn’t need too much to deliver – which is why I think Gran Electrica has done right by it. Infusing it with chile that only kicks it up a notch makes it the perfect partner for an all-out taste bud bonanza with orange, carrot, lime, and ginger syrup.
No sane bartender would mess with this flavor combo – which is why I love it.
“Gitano Margarita” at Gitano Jungle Room at the James Hotel – SOHO – Los Vecinos Mezcal, cucumber, lime, agave, rosemary
This is a crisp, light version of the margarita with a twinge of smoke. Cucumber and rosemary take over to mellow most of the notes of ash from the mezcal. What I like about the Gitano is that it doesn’t try and take away from the fresh lime’s spotlight. Fresh citrus is a star ingredient – sometimes it just needs some backup dancers. This is a crazy pleasant drink and the surprise raspberry in the garnish is a nice touch.
“Toloache Margarita” at Toloache – Midtown West – Herradura Blanco, fresh lime juice, agave, hibiscus puree, blueberries, hibiscus flower
“Guava Margarita” at Horchata – Greenwich Village - tequila blanco, guava, agave, lime, salt
“Saint -Tropez Margarita” at Fig & Olive – offered at 5th Avenue and Meatpacking locations –Volcán Blanco, lime, Crème de Cassis, lavender bitters
“Strawberry Basil Margarita” at Rocco’s Tacos & Tequila Bar – Brooklyn Heights – Tradicionel Silver, fresh strawberries, fresh basil,fresh lime juice, agave
“De Lujo” at Habanero Blues – Koreatown – Don Julio Añejo, lime, agave, lava salt rimmed glass