Whether they’re frozen or on the rocks, basic or flavored, margaritas flow freely in Austin. What makes the best ones stand out? First: they’re not so weak that you keep gulping them down, but not so strong that you’ll regret them the next day (if, that is, you stop after one or two, that is, which you should). Second, they're more tart than sweet, so they won't give you a sugar hangover, which can be just about as woeful as a tequila hangover. Last, they’re creative but not too gimmicky. My list has some maverick margs, but I generally stay away from sangria floaters and the like. Also, there is no such thing as a “wine margarita.” Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
For maximum margarita enjoyment, pair yours with spicy or flavorful food (I offer a few suggestions below). And—please, please—get salt on the rim. Going saltless should not even be up for discussion. Here are five of the city’s best:
The frozen-avocado margarita is the most famous option at this consistently good Interior-Mexican spot in South Austin, but I’m more a fan of the light and refreshing La Currita, served on the rocks in a 16-ounce glass. Pair it with ceviche or the tacos al pastor.
You might not be familiar with the Mexican martini, a generous margarita-style cocktail served around Austin. According to legend, this bar introduced it in the U.S. almost 30 years ago. You get a whole shaker full of Mexican martini here, so be sure to pair it with a burger or even one of the substantial salads.
El Chile Café y Cantina
The frozen margaritas here are some of the best for cooling down on a hot Austin day. Crave something different? Enjoy a spicy orange Chilango margarita, with chips and the restaurant's signature smoky salsa. Happy-hour specials add to the Chilango’s allure. (It’s also available at El Chile’s sister restaurant, El Alma.)
It's not technically a margarita, but El Cubico—a cocktail that blends flavors including tobacco, vanilla, pineapple, lemon and saffron—is perhaps the highest and best use of tequila that we have found as humans. Pair one with the savory El Califa tacos and bliss out in La Condesa’s tropical-modern décor.
The lineup of margaritas (and other cocktails) here is uniformly tasty and affordable. I usually go with the house Mexican martini for $5.50—a worthy companion to satisfying plates like tacos de verduras (only $7 for two veggie tacos and two sides). You can choose between the restaurant and cantina sides of Takoba, and there's also outdoor seating.