Where to Find the Most Remarkable Margaritas in San Antonio

Where to Find the Most Remarkable Margaritas in San Antonio

By Charles Passy
Oct. 19, 2018

A mere 150 miles from Mexico, San Antonio has put its own stamp on the margarita. In its simplest form, the cocktail combines tequila, lime juice and orange liqueur, but the city’s bars and restaurants have introduced all sorts of iconoclastic margarita variations. Some add unexpected ingredients— avocado, for one. Others make daring substitutions, subbing in vodka for tequila, for instance. After scouring the city for some memorable margaritas, we settled on four cocktail joints that outmixed the rest:

The Hotel Margarita: Hotel Emma

A complimentary margarita welcomes every guest who checks into Hotel Emma, a boutique lodging that’s part of the rebirth of San Antonio’s decade old Pearl Brewery complex. And guests can continue the party in any of the property’s 146 rooms, since the minibars (or “iceboxes,” as they’re known) are stocked with the necessary margarita ingredients. But you needn’t stay overnight to partake. Comers and goers can find the same margarita—a straightforward, sweet-meets-tart version, dubbed La Babia after the hotel owner’s ranch—in Hotel Emma’s Sternewirth bar. Seeking something more unusual? Try the Three Emmas (made with a rose cordial, sherry and gin, among other ingredients) or the mezcal-based Bulls on Parade. Or toast the Pearl Brewery complex’s original raison d’etre with a local craft beer. At the Sternewirth, you can even grab a cozy spot inside what was once a beer tank. 136 E. Grayson St., (210) 448-8300, thehotelemma.com

The Crafty Margarita: The Esquire Tavern

A historic saloon situated along the city’s famed River Walk, the Esquire Tavern might be the last place you’d expect to find serious mixology. The space itself has been around in one form or another since 1933, and many of its details, such as the tin ceiling and 108-foot-long wooden bar, date back decades. But the drinks are very much in a contemporary vein. For a Mexican-inspired drink that might be considered a margarita alternative, go for the Texecutioner. Espadín mezcal stands in for tequila, backed up by bittersweet Cocchi Americano, grapefruit juice and the honey-anise liqueur xtabentún. The bar also turns out a fairly traditional margarita–the Nuestra Margarita (meaning “our margarita”) whose extra bit of tartness comes from substituting Key lime juice for the standard kind. The food is notable too, with all sorts of twisted versions of Mexican and homey American favorites. Go for the Pimento Grilled Cheese, a Southern spin on the classic sandwich. 155 E. Commerce St., esquiretavern-sa.com

The Neighborhood Margarita: Tycoon Flats

In San Antonio’s up-and-coming Tobin Hill neighborhood, about 3 miles from downtown, Tycoon Flats comprises an indoor restaurant, an outdoor beer garden, even a children’s play yard. You’ll usually find more locals than tourists hanging about, many of them ordering up a Dos-A-Rita, a frozen margarita paired with a bottle of Dos Equis, the Mexican pilsner-style beer. The bottle is served upside-down within the cocktail, the two drinks becoming one. The margarita itself may not blow your mind–it’s from frozen lime concentrate boosted with a bit of orange juice. But the beer takes the drink to another level, imparting a subtle bitterness and pleasant fizz. If you prefer your cocktail sans beer, order one of the many other margaritas on offer, including a “skinny” version with agave nectar. For food, Tycoon Flats is known best for its burgers—meaty affairs topped with cheese, jalapeños or just about anything else. A special-of-the-day burger, for example, came with a fried egg, cheddar cheese and “chicken fried” bacon. 2926 N. St. Mary’s St., (210) 320-0819, tycoonflats.net

The Infused Margarita: The Frutería

One of a clutch of restaurants opened by native son Johnny Hernandez, the Frutería in the close-to-downtown Southtown neighborhood draws inspiration from Mexico’s colorful fruit stands. But the emphasis at this urban-chic Frutería is squarely on the drinks—specifically, the “house infusions” that are Mr. Hernandez’s signature. Many of the concoctions feature tequila (or, in some cases, mezcal or even vodka) infused with everything from cantaloupe to spicy peppers. The infusions serve as a basis for a range of cocktails, such as the El Distrito (a version of a Manhattan) or, yes, a margarita (which combines any infusion with fresh lime, pineapple and orange juices plus Cointreau). And to pair with all those cocktails? The Frutería offers both day and nighttime menus, with an emphasis on small plates. Try one of the unusual takes on classics like chiles rellenos and gorditas. Or go for the spicy peanuts (cacahuates) with garlic and chile. 1401 S. Flores St., chefohnnyhernandez.com/restaurants/fruteria-southtown

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