The ubiquitous margarita is like a party in your mouth, and today we raise a glass to this cocktail. A traditional margarita features tequila, orange liqueur like Cointreau or triple sec, lime juice, and the optional salt rim, served either frozen or on the rocks.
There are many stories surrounding the origin of the margarita. Some say that it was created in the 1940s for the jazz singer Peggy Lee at the famous Balinese Room, a casino-club in Galveston, Texas. Others give credit to Mexican bartender Don Carlos Orozco, who, as legend has it, played around with some ingredients, liked it, and named the drink after Margarita Henkel, the first person to taste it.
No matter how the margarita first came to be, it’s now glorified in every Mexican restaurant, with one sip sending our palates on a virtual beach vacation ("Margaritaville, anyone?). Although there are cheap and easy versions (many bars substitute sour mix for fresh lime juice), bartenders have created haute recipes for the cocktail using innovative ingredients like prickly pear, pomegranate, ginger, hibiscus and chili peppers.
For example, at Oficina Latina in New York, owner Paolo Votano adds avocado and cilantro to his drink. “I thought about ingredients important to Latin cuisine and avocado came to me, because it’s not only popular but present in all different types of Latin cuisine,” he explained.
At Zengo in Manhattan, chef-owner Richard Sandoval's house blend comes bright pink from blood orange juice and packed with heat due to a healthy dose of muddled serrano chilies. Sandoval also offers a margarita made with sweet tamarind and Togarashi salt (a Japanese blend meaning seven spices), which give the traditional Mexican creation an Asian kick.
In Los Angeles, Rick Bayless’ restaurant Red O celebrates the drink with a margarita flight created by their mixologist Steve Calabro. It includes the Market Margarita with fresh cucumber and honeydew; the Alacran Margarita with Veev Acai and serrano-infused syrup, and the La Dama Margarita with serrano chili, mango, and pomegranate.
Pomegranate has also been the key ingredient in Rosa Mexicano’s signature margarita since 1984, while New York’s Amalia specializes in a bergamot version with saffron-citrus salt. We snagged the recipes and want to know: How do you like your margarita?
Rosa Mexicano’s Pomegranate Margarita (for 1 pitcher)
- 12 ounces tequila, silver or blanco
- 3 ounces triple sec
- 6 ounces fresh lime juice
- 6 tbs. fresh pomegranate juice
- 36 to 40 ice cubes
- Garnish with lime wheel or wedge
Mix all the ingredients in a blender until smooth and frothy.
Amalia’s Bergamot Margarita (for 1 glass)
- 2 1/2 ounces silver tequila
- 1/2 ounce Cointreau
- 1/2-ounce fresh lime juice
- 1/2-ounce bergamot syrup
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir heartily. Rim a martini glass with saffron-citrus salt and strain drink into glass. Garnish with lime wedge.
- 1 tbs. fennel seeds
- 1/2 tsp. dried orange peel
- 1 dried chili de arbol, seeds removed
- 1 pinch crushed saffron
- 1/4 cup medium-grain sea salt
Toast the fennel seeds in a dry skillet until fragrant. Use spice grinder to finely grind orange peel and chili. Add fennel and grind until seeds are coarsely ground. Blend fennel mixture with saffron and salt. Save any extras in an airtight container.
Linnea Covington is a freelance writer and eater who will try any drink, dish, or sweet at least once, especially if it involves chili or bourbon.