Cocktail & Other Recipes Cocktail Type Modern Classic

12 Bartenders Offer Their Smart Takes on the Classic Margarita

Image: Riesler Morales

There are those out there who think the Margarita should be left alone. That the magic combo of sweet, sour and tequila, all dumped into a salt-rimmed glass, is as near a perfect thing as exists in a cocktail—and why mess with a perfect thing? Yet some of the best bartenders in the business are experimenting with new ingredients and flavor combinations to bring you an even better agave cocktail. We’ve compiled the best of their efforts. These are a dozen Margaritas every drinker should try.

Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great Margaritas? Try making the Breakfast Margarita at home.

  • Szechuan Margarita (Genghis Cohen, Los Angeles)

    What’s in it: Silver tequila, Ancho Reyes Verde chile poblano liqueur, yuzu and fresh lime juices, Szechuan peppercorns and Thai basil

    Yael Vengroff, bartender: “I created the Szechuan Margarita to introduce our regulars to bold flavors. The Margarita, being as canonical and approachable as it is, is the perfect vessel for that. I’m a big fan of high acidity in cocktails, especially when pairing with food, so naturally I looked to yuzu to bring really bright citrus into the picture. From there, I wanted to highlight the complexity of Szechuan peppercorn by introducing Thai basil and an extra kick of spice from Ancho Reyes Verde.”

  • Spanish Margarita (Bulla Gastrobar, Coral Gables, Fla.)

    What’s in it: El Jimador reposado tequila, Napoleon amontillado sherry, Grand Marnier liqueur, fresh lime juice and agave nectar

    Joel Mesa, head mixologist, Centurion Restaurant Group: "The Spanish Margarita is a true game-changer. It's a Margarita for a complex cocktail lover, with layers of flavor from the nutty undertones of the sherry and Grand Marnier meshing together. Even with its depth and complexity, it's refreshing as a great Margarita should be."

  • Wobby Sobby Spicy Marg (Wabi Venice, Calif.)

    What’s in it: Gem & Bolt mezcal, serrano chile, fresh lime juice, agave syrup, sriracha and volcanic salt

    Ray Wicks, head bartender: “The herbaceousness of Gem & Bolt melds well with the sriracha, which I’m a fan of in this drink because of the tang from the vinegar and garlic. I always go for mezcal. ... I was stranded in Baja with no water recently and managed to survive off the spirit and miraculously didn’t have a deathly hangover.”

  • Mystic Marvel (Fishbowl, Dream Midtown, New York City)

    What’s in it: Casamigos tequila, prickly pear purée, agave and fresh lime juice

    Drew Sweeney, beverage director: "Prickly pears are sweet but not too sweet. They taste like a combination of bubble gum, watermelon and strawberries with some natural tartness. We add a little fresh lime to brighten up the cocktail and turmeric salt to add an herbal saltiness that also has all the health benefits of turmeric like anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant and cancer-fighting agents. The combination of the kosher salt and turmeric also looks like beach sand."

    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • Fire & Smoke (BOA Steakhouse, West Hollywood, Calif.)

    What’s in it: El Silencio espadin mezcal, crushed pineapple, pink peppercorns, honey and fresh lime juice

    Tara Shadzi, lead bartender: “The pineapple, pink peppercorn and honey syrup in the Fire and Smoke is made from scratch in-house. This refreshing summer Margarita is full of spicy, smoky, sweet and tart flavors. All ingredients are shaken and strained over a large clear ice cube and garnished with a pineapple spear and grated pink peppercorn.”

  • Margarita Negra (Rosmar, Acapulco, México)

    What’s in it: Cupreata mezcal, orange liqueur, fresh lime juice, ginger and tamarind syrup, garnished with salt flower made in-house with chile de arbol

    Jose Javier Reynada, chef: “The Margarita Negra at Rosmar highlights the mezcal of the state of Guerrero, which is the agave cupreata, and one of the fruits we had inside the exchange with the Nao of China, the tamarind. Due to the warm weather in Acapulco, I decided to make this Margarita a frappe.”

  • Saffron Margarita (Otium, Los Angeles)

    Sierra Prescott

    What’s in it: Saffron-infused blanco tequila, Yellow Chartreuse, fresh lemon juice, grapefruit, bird's eye chile tincture and chamomile

    Chris Amirault, bartender: “This is a floral and slightly spicy rendition of the Margarita. We find most guests are asking for spicy, not sweet, agave cocktails, so for us, this fits the bill. The floral notes of the saffron boost the flavors of the unaged agave and also provide a beautiful stark color. Instead of muddling chilies, we make a house bird's eye chile tincture, which allows us to control the spice level and customize it for any guest's preference.”

  • Carrot Margarita (Clever Rabbit, Chicago)

    Erick Leinberg

    What’s in it: Piedra Azul reposado tequila, Ancho Reyes Verde poblano chile liqueur, house-made carrot juice, fresh lime juice and agave syrup, garnished with lime, sea salt and fresh sage

    Nick Pagory, partner: “Margaritas and summer go hand-in-hand, and this one adds a little more depth than most with lime sea salt, poblano spice and carrots, while still being crushable and refreshing. It’s exactly what you want to drink outside on our patio on a warm summer day.”

    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • Strawberry Margarita (Tallula’s, Santa Monica, Calif.)

    Rick Poon

    What’s in it: Tapatio blanco tequila, fresh lime juice, agave (diluted), saline and strawberry purée

    Aaron Ranf, bar manager: “This recipe is super simple and really more about the quality of the ingredients than the technique. We use in-season berries at their peak freshness. The purée is just strawberries in a Vitamix blender until they're super smooth. The saline gives the fresh ingredients an extra pop. We dilute the agave to better control the sweetness and for easy mixing.”

  • Singing Bush (Nightbell, Asheville, N.C.)

    What’s in it: Olmeca Altos reposado tequila, Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao, strawberry/rhubarb syrup, fresh lemon juice and chipotle tincture

    Phoebe Esmon, bartender: “This drink does not veer too far from the classic Margarita ingredients—we just tweaked it a little and added some spice. I opted for a reposado, which sees a little time in a barrel. In this case, the vanilla and deeper notes from the barrel set off the strawberry and rhubarb. The dry curaçao lends a high note, and fresh lemon juice in this case brightens everything and makes the flavors pop. A little heat is added in the form of a chipotle pepper tincture (we can add more or less as the customer asks). And instead of a salt rim, I opted to place an orange with sea de gusano on the the top of the drink, which is both an edible and an aromatic garnish.”

  • El Paseo (Michael’s Santa Monica, Calif.)

    Rachel Jacobson

    What’s in it: Blanco tequila, mezcal, fresh lime juice, ginger syrup, Giffard Crème de Fraise des Bois strawberry liqueur and house-made strawberry granita

    Meredith Hayman, bar manager: "El Paseo presents a fun twist on a Margarita as I serve it over a seasonal granita (essentially frozen juice transformed into shaved ice). I use flavors that reflect the changing seasons, so in the fall, I used watermelon, the winter was grapefruit and pomegranate, the spring was blood orange and mandarin, and the summer brings us into strawberry season. The cocktail is super refreshing and allows different fruit flavors to be present without overpowering the drink. You can still taste the mezcal and tequila in the cocktail, which is super important to me. I want a nice balance of flavors and not just a single note. The cocktail is poured table-side to ensure the guest gets the full experience.”

  • Coralina Margarita (MXDC Cocina Mexicana, Washington, D.C.)

    What’s in it: Patrón reposado tequila, Patrón Citrónge orange liqueur, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, red wine (Mexican or other) and a sugar-salt rim

    Riesler Morales, bartender: “My drink is inspired by a story of two people who meet abruptly on a beach. The color of my cocktail represents the love they saw for the first time.”