Nine Spots for Premium Margaritas
We’re all familiar with the frozen, neon-colored margaritas served up from rotating slushie machines. They’re the workhorse of drinks: reliable, but boring. Skip the brain-freeze-inducing drinks this Cinco de Mayo and celebrate with these creative, unforgettable margaritas instead.
8201 S. Howell Ave.
With a name like Margarita City, you better believe this restaurant offers up a full menu of drink options. It’s best to keep it simple with one of their signature margs, like the La Frida. Top shelf spirits Casa Noble tequila and Grand Marnier are mixed with pomegranate juice and fresh lime. The pomegranate juice lends only a subtle sweetness, making this a great choice for people who steer clear of overly sweet cocktails. (Plus it lends a gorgeous deep pink color.) The smoothness of Grand Marnier’s orange flavor can’t be beat.
3129 N. Bremen St. and 2394 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
Why limit margaritas to the evening hours? You can drink them for brunch at Café Corazón. Wash down your migas and chilaquiles with the sunrise margarita. They take their house margarita, served on the rocks with 100% agave tequila, simple syrup, triple sec and fresh lime juice, and add a splash of orange juice and grenadine. It’s a cross between a tequila sunrise and a margarita that’s perfect for brunch. And that dose of vitamin C from the OJ makes it healthy, right?
2258 S. Kinninckinnic Ave.
Tamarind, a popular sour fruit that flavors everything from Indian chutney to Mexican candy, makes an appearance in the tamarindo margarita at Riviera Maya. It makes a refreshingly sour drink, which is served here with a rim of salt and spicy chile powder. If you’d rather a sweeter drink, try the horchatita, a hybrid of a margarita and cinnamon-filled horchata. It uses RumChata, a locally made rum cream, in addition to Frangelico, tequila and a splash of horchata for a creamy, nutty drink that would be great for dessert.
2165 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
Bitter liqueurs are a huge trend in cocktails right now, and margaritas are no exception. There are two margaritas on the menu at C-viche that incorporate bitter spirits. The Agave (happy hour only) mixes tequila, agave nectar for sweetness, and a splash of grapefruit juice with Cocchi Americano, an Italian fortified wine flavored with citrus peel and cinchona bark, the original source of quinine. The Maguey Margarita also utilizes an Italian spirit: Aperol. It’s mixed with mezcal for smokiness, lime juice, triple sec and cilantro. Both drinks are complex thanks to those Italian bitter spirits.
310 E. Chicago St.
The posh rooftop bar on the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, The Outsider, has a creative cocktail menu including a margarita-like drink called the Oaxacan Exchange. Tequila’s close cousin, mezcal, is used. It’s got a smoky, earthy flavor imparted by roasting the agave in an earthen pit. It’s mixed with lime, orange peppercorn syrup, pink sea salt and grapefruit radler (a beer and fruit juice mix). Again, this is a not-too-sweet choice thanks to the smoky mezcal and little bit of spice from the peppercorn.
2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
When you belly up to the bar at Odd Duck, order the #7. Drinks here have no names, only numbers. The #7 is considered a seasonal cocktail, but it appears on the drink menu more often than not. Mezcal and tequila pack a one-two punch of Mexican spirits along with Campari, blood orange juice, pink peppercorns and fresh lime. Campari is a dark red Italian bitter liqueur, which mixes well with both the mezcal and blood orange. Pink peppercorn and lime lift the flavor of this intensely colored drink.
Phoenix Cocktail Club
785 N. Jefferson St.
New kids on the block, The Phoenix Cocktail Club, opened at the beginning of the year with a playful, trendy cocktail menu (one drink even comes with a coloring page and crayons). So it’s safe to assume that their version of a margarita is a little bit different. The Mexican Firing Squad mixes blanco tequila with sour lime juice, grenadine and soda for sweetness, and a few dashes of bitters for an herbal complexity. It’s close to a traditional margarita, but the additions of grenadine and bitters make it memorable.
1122 N. Edison St.
Vagabond has a few margaritas that utilize fresh fruit for flavoring instead of snow-cone-like syrups. The Watermelon Fresco muddles watermelon and lime before topping it with tequila and Patrón Citrónge. Blueberry Basil incorporates fresh berries and basil leaves with lime, tequila and simple syrup. But the most interesting of them all is the Marengo: Diced ripe mango and spicy jalapeño are added to the standard margarita for a fruity, spicy kick. You can get them all by the pitcher, and you’ll want to.
BelAir, perhaps the Tex-mex taco king of Milwaukee, has a number of delicious, unique margaritas. The Fresa Fresca uses fresh strawberry juice with a sugared rim to create a sweet cocktail that won’t make your teeth ache. The real star of the margarita menu, though, is the cucumber hatch. The usual suspects of tequila, triple sec, simple syrup and lime are mixed with freshly juiced cucumber and hatch green chiles. Whenever cucumber joins the party in a drink, you know it’s going to be refreshing. Add in the sharp pepperiness of the hatch chiles and it’s a match made in margarita heaven.
Our Readers’ Choice
Winner for Best Margarita in the Shepherd Express’ 2016 Best of Milwaukee Contest
With two locations, La Fuente is clearly a local favorite, especially when it comes to enjoying frozen margaritas and refreshing shrimp soup on a sunny patio. When La Fuente opened in 1991 at 625 S. Fifth St., it was one of only a few Mexican restaurants around Fifth and National, an area now a hotbed for south-of-the-border spots. La Fuente’s cuisine struck a chord with Milwaukee area residents looking for some spice, and it became a destination dining spot for suburbanites.
After a couple of expansions in hopes of producing shorter wait times, owner Jose Zarate decided to bring the same Mexican food to the suburbs by opening a location on Bluemound Road in Wauwatosa in 2010. The spacious patio with outdoor bar at the original location is the best place to enjoy the food, especially when the restaurant’s namesake fountain is bubbling away.