Whether it’s served classic or frozen, we all have an idea of what makes the perfect margarita. Some of us prefer extra lime and some of us prefer extra salt, but in any case, most margaritas have the same few ingredients in common. Of course, there are thousands of variations of the classic margarita, so our team decided to find out what makes a margarita special.
Our team sat down with José Luis Vargas, a professional restaurateur from Mexico City, to learn more about the history of the drink and how American restaurants have adopted the margarita as a classic Tex Mex staple.
The History Of The Drink
“There isn’t a single, verifiable story behind the origins of the margarita,” explains Vargas. There are dozens of stories dating back to the early 1900’s, but all of them are loosely based on folklore or creation myth. Some claim that the margarita recipe was born in a small-town restaurant in Ensenada, Mexico, while others claim the margarita was first mixed in Galveston, Texas.
According to Vargas, there isn’t a single story that explains when the first margarita was poured, but it’s more likely that the drink had local variations in towns along the US-Mexican border until the 1950’s when the drink exploded in popularity. A recipe for the “Margarita Cocktail” was featured in a 1953 edition of Esquire Magazine, turning the simple recipe into a national sensation.
Since then, pop culture icons like Jimmy Buffett have idealized the margarita as a fusion of Mexican-American tradition, an adult beverage that stands for our collective desire to relax and enjoy a cold beverage during hot summer months. In many ways, Vargas explains that the margarita is more than a beverage, but part of a unique cultural phenomenon.
“The margarita is more than just tequila and lime. It is part of the cultural fabric of Mexican cuisine, which has now been exported around the world. From New York to Japan, every bar has some kind of variation of the classic margarita – and for those of us in Mexico’s culinary industry, we are immensely proud of that.”
What Makes A Margarita Great
Every margarita is different. Some bartenders use a plain mix of orange liqueur and lime juice, while others add extra flavors like ginger or mint. Some bartenders make sweeter varieties with a helping of simple syrup, while others opt for a stronger tequila flavor. What makes the margarita so special is that there’s no one way to make it.
“The classic margarita only features four main ingredients: salt, tequila, orange liqueur, and fresh-squeezed lime juice. That’s it,” says Vargas. “For decades, bartenders didn’t experiment with the flavors they do today. Now we’re seeing restaurants and bars take the classic margarita recipe and adapting it to local tastes, adding new fruits and spices we’ve never seen before. It’s incredibly interesting to see how the margarita recipe has changed over time.”
When it comes to finding the perfect margarita, Vargas explains that it all comes down to three main factors: quality of the ingredients, tequila-to-mixer ratio, and atmosphere.
- Quality is the most important part of any margarita. “Too many restaurants today are trying to cut corners,” claims Vargas. Business owners are looking to cut costs and improve efficiency by switching from fresh-squeezed lime juice to bottled alternatives. This might have a short-term affect on prices, but it degrades the overall quality of the drink – and customers can tell. For every part of the margarita, you want to use the freshest ingredients possible.
- As for tequila-to-mixer ratio, bartenders need to find an acceptable mix between flavor and strength. The sweet taste of tequila shouldn’t be overpowered by salt or acidic lime juice, but you also don’t want the customer to be overpowered by the liqueur’s strong taste. The perfect ratio tends to be somewhere around a 2:1 liquor to mixer ratio. According to Vargas, far too many restaurants are serving margaritas with a 1:1 ratio, meaning customers are getting less bang for their buck.
- Perhaps the most overlooked part of any margarita is the atmosphere inside of the bar or restaurant. “The most important part of any margarita has nothing to do with the actual drink and everything to do with a handful of emotional factors,” says Vargas. “How fast was the drink served? Is the restaurant visually appealing? In what kind of glass did they serve the drink? Margaritas are supposed to be a fun, relaxing beverage, so your experience ordering and drinking it should reflect that.”
Because margaritas come in all shapes and sizes, it’s important to remember that there is no uniform way to grade them. In ranking our favorite margaritas, we must adjust the scale accordingly to account for differences in style and local flavors.
Your Next Order
The next time you go out to your favorite Tex Mex restaurant, try something new but still make sure that your margarita has all the factors we mentioned above. Most importantly, remember that margaritas are best served with friends and family.
To try an award-winning margarita, visit your local Twisted Taco location in the Metro Atlanta area. Our team has been crafting handmade margaritas for over 15 years and our bartenders continue to work with industry leaders to perfect our recipes. Check us out online for upcoming specials near you.