Is there a cocktail more synonymous with summer than the margarita? The ingredients are fundamentally simple: tequila and fresh lime juice are shaken into a coupe glass with a salted rim, but don’t let its simplicity fool you: there’s some debate over whether the drink should include a sweetener like agave or an orange liqueur like cointreau.
Like any great cocktail, its origins are shrouded in mystery and folklore. My favorite of the stories I’ve heard involves the Agua Caliente racetrack in Tijuana set amid prohibition in the United States. The south-of-the-border destination became a haven for Americans to indulge in booze and horse betting.
One telling goes: there was a cocktail on the menu called the Daisy, made with a spirit, citrus and orange liqueur. (Daisy just so happens to translate literally to margarita in Spanish.)
However it came to be, it still reigns supreme in the genre of tequila-based cocktails and its popularity has only grown.
A 2020 report by Nielsen found that tequila sales grew 55.5% in 2020, so I couldn’t have been the only one mixing up margs at home or ordering them to-go from my favorite restaurants during the pandemic shutdown.
“When people were getting cocktails exclusively to go, we found out very quickly that the ‘comfort food’ cocktails were what people wanted a lot of,” said Evan Bucholz, co-owner and mixologist at Brix & Rye in Greenport, adding that drinks like dark-and-stormies and margaritas topped the list. “People wanted to tap into a sense of normalcy through a recognizable drink.”
Bucholz prefers to keep things traditional, mixing up what’s known as “Tommy’s Margarita,” which rose to popularity in the 90s and was developed by Julio Bermejo at his parents’ Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco.
“It was a very tequila-focused bar when it was still a ‘dare shot,’” Bucholz explained. “It really became the Mecca for drinking tequila in the United States.”
The tried-and-true recipe consists of 2 ounces of a quality blanco or reposado tequila, ¾ oz. agave syrup and 1 oz. fresh lime juice. “It’s super fresh, super focused and doesn’t use orange liqueur but you don’t feel like you’re missing a component,” Bucholz said.
But margaritas also provide a simple canvas that’s ripe for interpretation.
One easy way to elevate the cocktail is using fresh, local produce. At Brix & Rye, they infuse tequila in batches with halved strawberries from Sep’s Farm, letting it steep for 10 days before serving it either chilled by itself or as part of their margarita. “That’s our one adaptation we do seasonally and we go through it very quickly,” Bucholz said, adding that they typically sell out of the tequila by August. (They also stock the bar with habanero and jalapeño tinctures that can add heat to order.)
The dealbreaker, Bucholz said, is not using fresh citrus. “The fresh lime is the thing that makes it sing,” he said.
At Little Lucharitos in Aquebogue, you can select from a colorful array of fresh fruit purees — strawberry, pomegranate, blackberry, mango — for an added twist on the cocktail, with variations changing up seasonally.
“We sell tacos, but people primarily come in here because they want to have a margarita,” manager Sarah Perry said.
The popular taco spot bills itself as the home of the 16 oz. margarita, made with a half-ounce more tequila than your average drink. “It does pack a punch,” Perry said.
Strawberry is their bestseller, though Perry recommends the ‘sweet heat’ margarita, a combination of strawberry and jalapeno that’s served with a spicy tajin rim.
Margarita growlers were a bestseller amid the pandemic while to-go cocktails were permitted. They’re crossing their fingers that a move to legalize the pandemic measure will become permanent, but there’s still a way to enjoy a Lucharitos marg at home. Perry said they still sell margarita mix and purees to go upon request, describing it as a “hidden menu item.”
Behind the bar at Windamere in Mattituck, Aterahme Lawrence can often be found shaking up a blood orange margarita she says is super popular during Sunday brunch.
It’s made with silver Milagro tequila, fresh lime juice, blood orange juice, triple sec and agave, shaken and strained over ice.
“It’s a pretty, well-layered drink and colorful for summer,” Lawrence said. “I’m always in an endless summer mood here.”
The drink is poured into a glass rimmed with black lava salt, which streaks down into the drink for a visual effect, like fallen ash, and adds a dark smoky note.
Whether you prefer yours frozen or on the rocks, sweet or sour, it’s a refreshing drink that’s best sipped poolside. Mix one up at home using this recipe:
2 oz tequila
1 oz Cointreau
1 oz lime juice
Optional: Kosher salt and lime wheel for garnish
1. Run a lime wedge around the outer rim of a rocks glass and then dip the rims in salt and set aside.
2. In a cocktail shaker, add tequila, Cointreau and lime juice and a few ice cubes. Give it a quick, hard shake and strain the liquid over fresh ice. You can also opt for a dry shake with no ice, which will result in a frothier mix.
3. Garnish with a lime wheel and enjoy!
FIVE MORE SPOTS TO GET YOUR MARG FIX:
WATERMELON CILANTRO MARGARITA The Frisky Oyster, Greenport
Teremana tequila, cilantro-infused watermelon juice, lime, agave and sea salt are an elegant take on the classic margarita.
THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE Craft’d, Riverhead
Casamigos blanco tequila is infused with habanero peppers, mixed with Cointreau, passion fruit juice, lime juice and orange bitters and served with a chili-lime salt rim in this tropical margarita that has a spicy kick.
PRICKLY PEAR MARGARITA Legends, New Suffolk
Channel all the desert vibes with the fruity and bright prickly pear margarita made with Casamigos Blanco Tequila, Cointreau, prickly pear syrup, fresh lime juice and a touch of sour mix.
CUCUMBER-RITA Casa Amigos Restaurante, Greenport
You can’t go wrong with the super refreshing cucumber-rita made with Olmeca Altos silver, Grand Marnier, cucumber and fresh lime juice.
PEACH MARGARITA Mattitaco, Mattituck
The peach margarita with a tajin rim is unique and pairs perfectly with any of the creative tacos on the menu.