10/09/2020 Here’s where to find the best of the best Margaritas
If you had to name the most joyful, tomorrow-be-damned cocktail of them all, what would it be? ‘All of them’ is a decent, if slightly lazy, answer; ‘Martini’ suggests you’re trying too hard; ‘Pina Colada’ that you’d be better off with soda; and ‘Aperol Spritz’ that you’re on the right path, but the wrong side of the Atlantic. The best answer, of course, is Margarita, the only cocktail equally at home in a slushie machine as it is in a comically outsized glass. Short of ordering a Magnum of Champagne, nothing says celebration like a great big frosty Margarita.
That much is clear. What is hazier, alas, is this compelling concoction’s history. There is any number of creation myths. Luckily, the two best ones say this drink was invented in California, albeit the Baja portion south of the border. Was it Carlos “Danny” Herrera, owner of Tijuana restaurant Rancho La Gloria, who first put it together, in 1938, when actress Marjorie King told him she was allergic to every alcoholic drink except tequila (which she didn’t like drinking neat)? Or was it Don Carlos Orozco, a barman in Ensenada, who apparently first served it in 1941?
Dunno. Elsewhere, though, we’re on firmer ground. Margarita has a whole day devoted to it (22 February), Jimmy Buffet wouldn’t have had a career or a restaurant chain without it, and Los Angeles is an amazing place to drink it. Why? Because it’s hot, fundamentally, and margaritas are best when it’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. They don’t really work in Edmonton.
But where’s best to sip this combination of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice? Our preference is for places that don’t take themselves too seriously. This is not a ‘dress-code’ kind of drink, not something to order off a prissy list in a hotel bar. It’s fun. These are our recommendations:
There are 11 different margaritas on the menu at this historic restaurant in the Valley, offering a huge diversity of flavors. Can it still be a margarita if it’s made with blood orange? Why not? There’s no need to be over-sensitive about it. There’s nothing more in the spirit of margarita than chucking extra bits in that makes it all the more refreshing. What else? Oh, the interior at Casa Vega, with its red banquettes, paintings of Mexican scenes, and floral displays is marvelous, too. This is a restaurant devoted to pleasure.
If you’re serving a good margarita, best do it with some style and swagger. That’s the approach at El Compadre, where the margaritas are served on fire: there’s a disc of lemon floating on top of the drink, which is emitting a blue flame. It’s all part of the theatre of El Compadre, where each night brings live Mexican music and an atmosphere that hasn’t changed much since the first El Compadre opened in 1975 (and, even then, it harked back to an earlier era).
There are few LA dining spots as iconic as El Coyote, founded in 1931 and based in its current home, on Beverly Blvd, since 1951. It’s a huge place - 375 punters can squeeze in at a time - and it's popular with locals and tourists alike. That sort of popularity is down not to the food - which is fine but not outstanding - but the atmosphere. Once you squeeze into one of El Coyote’s booths and order a margarita, everything seems a little brighter. El Coyote reportedly shifts 20 gallons of its house margarita, which includes pineapple juice, every night.
The Margarita’s role as the official drink of fun reaches its apotheosis at this lively Tex-Mex stronghold, with its two branches, in North Hollywood and downtown LA. Margaritas are served in 18oz schooners, with options ranging from ‘Frozen Rita’ - authentic, strawberry or mango - to ‘Cesar Chavez’, with housemade Jalapeno-infused tequila. Food options include huge portions of tacos, nachos, enchiladas et al, and there’s often sport on the big screens.
Located in an elegant beaux-arts building in Downtown LA that was built in 1907, Las Perlas is the city’s first Mezcal bar. Opened in 2010, it offers a dizzying variety of 450 different Mezcals, and, of course, margaritas that have earned a big reputation. This is a more sophisticated Margarita than you might find at some of the other joints on the list, but don’t fret: just because they take it seriously doesn’t mean it’s not fun. Naturally, there’s mezcal margaritas alongside the more traditional version, which is made using agave nectar and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, fresh lime juice, and Sino Blanco tequila, shaken on the rocks.
This sleek modern Mexican chain has become an LA staple since the original restaurant opened in Santa Monica in 2012. The food is a bit more creative than at your average place, the crowd is a little younger, and the margaritas come in two forms: the house classic, and the Spicy Cucumber Margarita, made with Cazadores silver tequila, kumquat liqueur, and house jalapeño purée, with a chipotle salt rim. Food-wise, the tamales are very highly recommended.
Margarita on tap? Yes, margarita on tap. This large, open, laid-back, and truly delightful space - a former auto body shop in Frogtown - serves so many margaritas that they’ve decided to dispense with the traditional, made-to-order approach. The result is a delicious, classically-inclined margarita that - all being well - reaches the customer within a few minutes of being ordered. The best place to enjoy your margarita is underneath a lime tree on Salazar’s terrace.