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The perfect margarita

Photograph: Chris Litwin

There’s a reason margaritas evoke a tropical paradise. More refreshing than beer, more flavorful than wine and stronger than both, margaritas are like an alcoholic cold shower on a sweltering day. And as with many of life’s great pleasures, margaritas are a simple concoction: All you need is tequila, fresh lime, orange liqueur, ice and salt. We break down the classic cocktail to those five essential elements, exploring the importance, lore and best examples of each. All this reading getting you thirsty? Dig in to our list of top-notch margaritas around town, from a 45½-ounce monsterita to a fancy number lined with black lava salt. Salud!

Tequila

The best agave spirit for your margarita might not be the same one you'd pick for sipping.

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Lime

The little green fruit has a big role: amping up flavor, freshness and tartness in a margarita.

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Orange liqueur

It plays the strong, silent supporter to tequila's star turn, but it's a must for a balanced margarita.

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Salt

Call it the margarita nanny: That sodium-encrusted rim tells all the other flavors how to behave.

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Ice

Blended, frozen, straight up or on the rocks-we've got the cold facts on why each of the margarita's incarnations might make you ...

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The great upgrade debate

Master mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim explains why spending more on your cocktail is a good thing.

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How the margarita flowered

Legend has it the margarita was named after a beautiful woman named Margaret. We politely disagree.

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Give it to me straight

To truly appreciate the agave nectar of the gods, hit the city's best tequila bars and order it neat.

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Marga-redo

Five mixologists whip up their creative takes on the classic cocktail-and you can, too.

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Causing a stir

The best store-bought margarita mixes, for the mixology-challenged.

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Fruit fight

Four different orange liqueurs that range in price from ay caramba to affordable.

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Operation Extreme Margarita

A weeks-long, hangover-inducing offensive delivers standouts in four categories.

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Domestic buzz

Transform your home into your own personal cantina with these boozy accessories.

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