The house margarita at Empellón Cocina
By legend, the margarita was invented around 1940 in an Italian restaurant in Ensenada, Mexico, to commemorate the visit of the daughter of the German ambassador, who happened to be named Margarita. Now, you can get a margarita — often, a sweetish mixed drink featuring tequila and lime juice or citrus liqueur — at nearly any bar in town. But which is the best?
Though they’re available iced, neat, or frozen like an icee in a variety of fruit flavors, I prefer them simple, strong, and on the rocks, normally eschewing what comes cranked out of machines. I also prefer to drink them in Mexican restaurants, since the drink so perfectly marries with south-of-the-border food. Here are my five favorites, in order of increasing preference.
5. House Margarita at Empellón Cocina (above) — In a squat glass with a rim coated in smoked salt, the house version of the famous cocktail is made with Pueblo Viejo Blanco, and can be goosed up with a tincture of serrano peppers, which adds a welcome but mild jolt, more flavor than heat. 105 First Avenue, 212-780-0999
4. Flaming Margarita at Florencia 13 — Lit by a blue flicker, the drink arrives dramatically at your table and makes the day feel like your birthday. Tall and strong, this margarita is one of several at this Cal-Mex hideout, offered at steep discounts during a daily 4-to-7 p.m. happy hour. 185 Sullivan Street, 212-677-6830
3. Frozen Pomegranate Margarita at Rosa Mexicano — You’ll throw away your objections to frozen margaritas when you taste this subtle, fruity masterpiece, long the signature mixed drink of this upscale NYC (and Washington, D.C.) chain. 61 Columbus Avenue, 212-977-7700
2. Margarita de la Casa at Tortaria — This fine specimen is also one of the cheapest in the city, priced at $5 all the time. Tortaria’s version must be what the drink originally tasted like, before the blandishments of mixologists. 94 University Place, 212-776-1830
1. Margarita Añejo at Añejo Tequileria — Where would you go to get a really exemplary margarita? A bar and restaurant that proudly specializes in tequila. Unfortunately, it’s not cheap. This $12 margarita deploys El Jimador Añejo aged tequila, which gives the drink — surpassing in its subtlety — a fusty flavor and yellow-parchment color. 668 Tenth Avenue, 212-920-4770