Thursday is Cinco de Mayo, which means many of you will be celebrating with margaritas in hand—even though that’s not really how most Mexicans prefer to drink their tequila, nor are we observing the Mexican Fourth of July. (Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates the victory over the imperialist French in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862; Mexican Independence Day is September 18).
Equally amusing is the argument over what constitutes a real margarita. Cocktail connoisseurs will tell you that Spring Break-style slushies in Day-Glo colors are a foul bastardization of the sacred original, made strictly with high-quality tequila, Cointreau, and fresh-squeezed lime juice. Yet no one really knows who created this first “real” margarita, or where it was conceived—one story has a Dallas socialite named Margarita Sames inventing the cocktail in 1948; another claims that it was concocted by bartender Carlos Hererra in 1938 or 1939 for his girlfriend Marjorie King. About five other equally plausible scenarios exist. Clearly, the cocktail’s uncertain history renders this “authentic margarita” discussion a little pointless.
Frozen or on the rocks, enjoy this summertime drink how you will. The varieties on the traditional lime-flavored version are astounding in the city, with restaurants introducing alternatives like hibiscus or ginger, made from fresh juices or fruits. Pricier establishments like Rosa Mexicano aside, here are our picks for the best from-scratch margaritas in the city.
1) Café El Portal The service is lousy and the chiles rellenos amazing at this family-owned Mexican restaurant in Nolita. Everyone partakes of the wide selection of flavors here: mango, tamarind, hibiscus, pineapple, guava, mango, and more. The cucumber one is a sweet tequila-spiked version of their refreshing cucumber-water beverage ($8).
2) El Rey Del Sol Head to the backyard patio and follow everyone else’s lead: Skip the less-than-impressive dinner entrees and order up a pitcher of the watermelon margarita ($10 glass/$28 pitcher).
3) La Palapa They offer blood orange, mango, ginger, and tamarind versions, but the most popular one remains their hibiscus “La Doña” Diva, rimmed with chile-piquin salt ($8-$12).
4) Mercadito They’ve got spicy ones (cucumber chile de arbol, three-citrus habanero, chipotle jicama), fruity ones (mango, pineapple, blueberry, strawberry, hibiscus), and adamantly refuse to do frozen ($7-$11).
5) Maria’s Mexican Bistro In addition to offering mango and pomegranate varieties, owner Eduardo Nacipucha outdoes himself with the only frozen avocado margarita we know of ($7).