Photos by Brian Addison.
On the rocks or blended. Salted rim or hold the sodium. Ordering a margarita comes with options but traditionally speaking, is limited to how swanky you prefer your happy hour.
Classically, the cocktail consists of tequila, orange liqueur and some form of citrus juice with its disputed origins reaching back to the 1930s. The drink is so steeped in history that in 2007 the Smithsonian Institute purchased the first frozen margarita machine (invented in 1971 by a Dallas restauranteur) to display in the National Museum of American History.
You can get this “historic” beverage at virtually any Mexican restaurant in the city. If tradition is your thing, you’d be hard pressed to find a better straight up, old fashioned margarita than the one at Fuego inside the Maya Hotel. However, these five spots veer from the path of margaritas past, presenting interesting takes on the classic. While they are a departure from your abuelo’s margarita, these are five cocktails you should give a whirl this Cinco de Mayo.
Spicy Cucumber at Roxanne’s Lounge
A house creation of this cozy little craft cocktail bar near Bixby Knolls, the Spicy Cucumber is like a Cinco de Mayo celebration in a glass. It’s spicy, sweet and full of tequila. Jalapeños and cucumbers are muddled in the glass before the alcohol starts to flow. Cointreau, simple syrup, Don Julio and lemon and lime juice follow with the result being one of the most interesting and surprisingly balanced margaritas on this list. The cucumber tames the heat of the jalapeño and the pucker of the citrus is mellowed by the simple syrup. If there were such a thing as a “session margarita,” or morallly repsonsible, the drinkability of the Spicy Cucumber would get our vote. Roxanne's, 1115 E Wardlow Rd., (562) 426-4777, roxanneslounge.com
Sino Margarita at Stache Bar
You don’t typically go to a place renowned for their whiskey selection and order a margarita…but we did. The Stache Sino margarita is simple, stiff and hip, like anything else you’d expect from this watering hole. Using house-made sweet and sour, organic blue agave and locally owned Sino Tequila, this is the closest that our list gets to the traditional. And at $7, the Stache Sino was on the lower end of the spectrum price wise, staying in accordance with the bar’s reputation of making L.A. drinks at Long Beach prices. Stache Bar, 941 E 4th St, (562) 606-2529, thestachebar.com
The Skinny Margarita at Nick’s On 2nd
Just the basics, no filler here. Nick’s On 2nd uses three ingredients--fresh lime, agave nectar, tequila--to make its Skinny Margarita. Served with a salted rim and lime wedge (barring a lime shortage) this cocktail is for those Cinco partiers trying to limit weight gain to tacos, not booze. The lime-color of the drink and the natural sweetness provided by the agave will appeal to borrachas with a sweet tooth. If tequila isn’t your thing, Nick’s Salty Dog is essentially a vodka margarita. Belvedere vodka and fresh grapefruit juice come together in a blend that’s balanced and delicious for anyone looking for a Russian angle to their Mexican “holiday.” Nick's On 2nd, 4901 E 2nd St, (562) 856-9000, nicksrestaurants.com
Ace of Spades at The Federal Bar
It’s no surprise that a place with an underground speakeasy chock full of craft alcohol and a decor and vibe that celebrates 1920s bootlegging would make excellent cocktails. The Fed’s Ace of Spades margarita doesn’t introduce any doubt into that assumption. Made with Avion Reposado tequila, blackberry liqueur, agave syrup and lime juice, it meets the criteria of margaritadom, but adds a blackberry twist. This well-crafted beverage is smooth as it goes down with the blackberry liqueur helping to calm the aggression of the tequila while lending an interesting berry flavor profile to the traditionally citrus-infused drink. Federal Bar, 102 Pine Ave., (562) 435-2000, thefederalbar.com
Blood Orange Margarita at Tantalum
If the lack of a waterfront view is a deal breaker in your Cinco de Mayo plans, you’re in luck. Tantalum, which overlooks Alamitos Bay from the Marina Pacifica shopping center, is serving up a Blood Orange Margarita that’ll make you wish they opened early everyday. Olmeca Altos Tequila, blood orange nectar, orange bitters and fresh lime and lemon juice comprise this margarita that tastes like a breakfast beverage (in a delightful way) rather than a happy hour libation. The garnish of orange wedge is a foreshadows the orange juice-esque adventure that awaits you. Don’t be deceived by its cotton candy appearance, the Blood Orange Margarita packs a punch. Tantalum, 6272 E Pacific Coast Hwy, (562) 431-1414, tantalumrestaurant.com