Celebrating Cinco de Mayo satisfies any South-of-the-Border craving, but why reserve the the best margaritas in NYC for just one day? It's always time for tequila, especially when shaken up with a hit of spice or swirled with sweet watermelon. Spend some time at the city's best Mexican restaurants for some serious agave spirits, plus Gotham's best tacos. Fair warning, though: You're gonna want a pitcher.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to cocktails in NYC
Best margaritas in NYC
What's special about San Pedro Inn is the amount of care it took to make it look and feel like a neighborhood bar. And not "neighborhood-y" in the way that many spots brand themselves to feel like they're apart of a community. Even in its first weeks of operation, characters from all walks of life have found a home at the former site of Bait & Tackle, the once-beloved dive bar. The idea for San Pedro came from a collaborative art installation between Gabriel Florenz, Artistic Director of Pioneer Works (which is located just down the street) and Jason Grunwald. Design remains an intrisic part of the ethos; Grunwald, who also owns Other Times Vintage, a furniture shop in Bushwick, built out the space himself. San Pedro Inn serves tacos, quesadillas and tostadas, with housemade fermented hot sauce, farm fresh vegetables and homemade tortillas, all made by Norberto Piattoni, formerly of Mettā. And the drinks...it is a bar after all. Here, you can get classics like a Corona or G&T, but the standouts are their sensational margaritas; they're offered as the regular or with hibiscus (we prefer the regular). The end result is a near-perfect bar that blends American dive sensibilities with great Mexican food and drink traditions, a nod to Florenz' roots.
The setting doesn’t scream tropics: a highway-facing stretch of Atlantic Avenue, sandwiched between Brooklyn Christian Center and a plumbing-supply company. But for its cocktail newcomer Diamond Reef, Attaboy’s Michael McIlroy and Sam Ross padded the dimly lit, wood-paneled room with enough potted plants, palm-frond wallpaper and splashes of turquoise that it’s easy to forget the barren, traffic-heavy street just outside.
Fifty tequilas are available ($7–$40 per glass), and tacos from the bar menu help soak up all that booze.
Feel like you're in Mexico City at this gorgeous Greenpoint sit-down spot.
Enrique Olvera, the megawatt Mexico City talent behind Pujol, made his stateside debut with this bare-concrete Flatiron dining room delivering elegant, high-gear small plates that are pristine, pricey and market-fresh. And, of course, the cocktails follow suit, including the mescal- and gin-laced El Ninja that balances tangy shiso shrub and sharp ginger with smooth fresh lime.
A slow and steady spice from house-infused jalapeño tequila gives this glass quite the kick, but lip-puckering lime makes it more fresh than fiery. And though you'd think mescal was giving its agave cousin some help, that craveable smoldering comes courtesy of chipotle-speckled salt around the rim.
It’s a surprising scene: a burlesque dancer—clad in sequins, tassels and not much else—lifts her leg until a stiletto heel grazes the top of her ear to the sounds of a live jazz trio. No more than a foot away, groups of men in Buddy Holly glasses and women in Stevie Nicks shawls feast on corn-masa tamales fitted with bone marrow. Guadalupe Inn is not what you’d expect from the area—a stretch of Knickerbocker Avenue that’s littered with auto garages and minimarts—and it’s not what you’d typically expect from a New York Mexican restaurant.
This mezcal margarita comes with a plastic baby on the side, holding on for dear life.
Hibiscus-tinged lime juice is a sweet-tart introduction to this quaff, but the surprisingly spicy rim of hibiscus-and-chili–flecked salt, (plus a generous pour of tequila) bring it to the big leagues: from fruity and floral to a true heavy hitter. Trust us —order a second round for the fun flavor and the killer buzz.
Who doesn't love a boozy special?
The owners of Bar Henry moved to Queens with this 40-seat Mexican eatery, specializing in the regional cuisine of Cintalapa, Chiapas. Brothers Cosme and Luis Aguilar, the chef and GM respectively, pay homage to their late mother with traditional plates, including some based on her recipes, such as chicken mole and cochinito chiapaneco (guajillo-marinated baby pork ribs). The sleek, gleaming white-painted spot features a garden out back and works from Queens artists.
Drinks maven Lynnette Marrero (Rye House, Flatiron Lounge) doubles down on the booze in her 'rita rendition, shaking smoky mescal with blanco tequila and enough mint to give it a crisp, clean finish. And she doesn't skimp on the smoked salt around its edge: A double-wide dose on only one side is perfect for salt haters and lovers alike.
One of our favorite parts of the New York food scene is how food cultures evolve and blend in this deliciously diverse city. Chef-owner Akhtar Nawab felt distinct similarities between the cuisines of Mexico and India—his parents’ native country. Having grown up learning to cook with his mother as his culinary inspiration, for Alta Calidad he created a marriage of the two cuisines with exciting flavors and satisfying standout dishes, served best with a margarita.
Opened in 2010, Casa Mezcal was a part of the first wave of restaurants that helped re-shape Mexican cuisine in New York, introducing the city to authentic antojitos and tantalizing tlayudas. The brainchild of artist Guillermo Olguin and restaurant vet Ignacio Carbadillo, the almost six-year-old Orchard Street restaurant remains a solid homage to the Mexican state of Oaxaca, showcasing the region's art, cuisine and culture. The street-level bar and restaurant that first welcomes diners is as tightly crammed as any narrow LES tenement-turned-restaurant, but Olguin and Carbadillo craftily use their limited space to exhibit a large collection of traditional Mexican arts and crafts. Indigenous sculpture vies with a bountiful selection of mezcals for space in the brightly painted jadeite bar. Even the ceiling is a canvas for colorful displays of the intricate cut paper art known as papel picado. While the overall effect is attractive, the restaurant's larger second floor art space and dining room is a much more comfortable space to sit back and take in the scene and cuisine. Casa Mezcal is not shy about presenting Oaxaca faithfully and authentically. In addition to the usual chicken and beef, you can also top your order with chapulines, those crunchy grasshoppers that are an important source of protein in the Oaxacan diet. Although served atop an uncharacteristically inartful heap of mixed greens, the chapulqueso ($15) is still an easy introduction to entomophagy. The slight shrim
It’s all about the agave at Mesa Coyoacan, Williamsburg’s warm and rustic tribute to authentic Mexican food and drink. A loyal set of neighborhood hipsters and visiting Manhattanites flock to this sunlit Graham Avenue cantina to gorge on expertly prepared, overstuffed tacos and a huge selection of margaritas made with house-infused premium tequila, muddled fruits and fresh juices. While the classic lime version is sure to do the trick, we recommend mixing things up a bit with Mesa Coyoacan’s bolder variations flavored with slow-burning grapefruit-habanero, lush and tart tamarind or unapologetically radiant watermelon.
Living up to its name, this frothy, head-scratching marg breaks tradition and makes you ask, "Why not?" The serrano chili gets a little lost underneath a veil of punchy pineapple puree, but you'll welcome that heat-quelling quality once the savory, herbal cilantro comes into play.
Dramatic light fixtures, towering gray cement walls and industrial furnishings create a sleek, almost-dystopian atmosphere at this trendy South Williamsburg restaurant. And the menu is not far behind in its ambitiously modern approach to Mexican flavors, Spanish tapas and defiantly modern cocktails. A prime example of chef Jason Marcus’ unique vision is the deconstructed margarita, which showcases house-infused tequila poured over ice cubes made from seasonal fruit juices, spices and herbs. Be sure to sip slowly for the full effect.
Elaborate chandeliers, a brick-lined, blue-lit bar and 100 different types of tequila set the stage at Añejo, Top Chef fan favorite Angelo Sosa’s stylish Mexican outpost. Adventurous imbibers would do well to sample the Mexican Firing Squad, an intoxicating blend of peppery Tapatio tequila, grenadine and fresh lime juice, finished with a spiced salt rim that acts like a fiesta for your taste buds. Don’t let the brutal name scare you away—this sipper is as refreshing as it is aggressive, making it an ideal companion to Añejo’s dangerously succulent short rib tacos.
From palomas to pulque, this snug Lower East Side eatery’s cocktail game has always been distinctly on-point thanks to seasoned mixologist Alex Valencia (PDT, Apothéke, Little Branch). The Oaxaca Express in particular mixes smoky mescal with jalapeño-infused agave, fresh lime juice and touches of basil and cucumber for an easy-to-drink and superbly refreshing tipple able to hold its own against the menu’s more complex offerings.
Whether you’re in the mood for light-and-frozen or sultry-and-on-the-rocks, this cozy, family-run Upper East Side storefront cantina is guaranteed to have a mind-blowing margarita with your name on it. Fans of fruit should opt for the smile-inducing Rainbow Margarita, where smooth Don Julio Blanco tequila meets brightly colored swirls of strawberry, mango and blue curaçao in a nostalgic snow cone–like celebration of all things summer. Ask for yours topped with a flaming lime wedge for an extra kick you won’t regret.