9 Of Chicago's Yummiest Margaritas

Here’s hoping that the slushied-up, sugary-sweet mix of tequila and fake fruit you used to drink in college is a distant memory. You’ve graduated, and so have margaritas. Nowadays, bartenders are making the Mexican favorite with everything from liquid nitrogen to kale-cilantro juice. They’re also shaking up traditional versions with concoctions eons better than anything you’ll get in a 26-ounce glass. Bonus: There's no watered-down salsa or stale tortilla chips in sight. Meet your new happy-hour heroes, ahead.
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Photographed by Grace Willis.
Rosemary’s Margarita at Antique Taco
In the wrong hands, simple syrup can be a headache in a glass. Not at this casual corner restaurant, where the house margarita packs just the right amount of rosemary-infused simple syrup to create a subtly sweet sip. Bartenders round things out with fresh-squeezed lime and orange juices, making this one of the most refreshing summer cocktails in town. It’s also one of the most dangerous, after you realize you can order it by the quart.

Antique Taco, 1360 North Milwaukee Avenue (at Wood Street); 773-687-8697.
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Photographed by Grace Willis.
LN2 Margarita at Drumbar
Mixology genius Craig Schoettler’s jumping ship for Las Vegas, so savor this showy margarita while you still can. Classic ingredients — Epsolon tequila, lime juice, and Grand Marnier — are whipped with liquid nitrogen, creating a dramatic cloud of vapor. The point is to make the slushy drink extra cold, perfect for a hot summer afternoon on Drumbar’s rooftop, but the peacocky presentation also works well if you’re trying to drum up conversation with the next barstool over.

Drumbar, 201 East Delaware Street (at Mies van der Rohe Way); 312-924-2531.
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Photographed by Grace Willis.
Classic Margarita at Big Star
Achieiving the impossible, the patio at Big Star got even better this summer when owners decided to put the signature margarita — made with blanco tequila and orange curacao — on tap. Now it’s almost too easy to get drunk on pitchers of the stuff. Luckily, the liquor-sopping tacos are right there, too.

Big Star, 1531 North Damen Avenue (at West Pierce Avenue); 773-235-4039.
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Photographed by Grace Willis.
Splurge Margarita at Frontera Grill
The Splurge at Rick Bayless’ Mexican mainstay is one of the most fun ways to toast an engagement, big move, or other special occasion. A base of añejo tequila that’s been aged in Cognac barrels meets fresh lime, Grand Marnier, and Pineau Des Charantes, a French wine fortified with Cognac. Flecks of gold leaf swim in the glass, which is extra-fancy as long as you don’t have any haunting college memories of Goldschlager.

Frontera Grill, 445 North Clark Street (at Illinois Street); 312-661-1434.
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Photographed by Grace Willis.
Underdog Margarita at De Cero
Perhaps this marg is named the Underdog because you wouldn’t expect it to be anything special. But the simple, balanced blend of Chinaco blanco tequila and lime shaken tableside is the perfect no-frills accompaniment to any of the 16 gussied-up tacos at De Cero, a Restaurant Row pioneer that has been bustling since 2004.

De Cero, 814 West Randolph Street (at Green Street); 312-455-8114.
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Photographed by Grace Willis.
Q-Rita at Lillie’s Q
At this newly reopened Bucktown BBQ joint, tequila gets the boot for a mix of moonshine, smoky BBQ sauce (the poor man’s mezcal?), and “Hopquila,” a citrusy, hopped-up whiskey from New Holland Brewing. The booze-forward blend pairs surprisingly well with triple sec, OJ, and fresh-squeezed lime juice, and the rim of Lillie’s Carolina Dirt BBQ rub is way more satisfying than salt.

Lillie’s Q, 1856 West North Avenue (at Wolcott Avenue); 773-772-5500.
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Photographed by Grace Willis.
Honey Margarita at Carnivale
Loud, bright, and spilling over with people, Carnivale is the ultimate party restaurant. Start your night with this tropical margarita, which pairs añejo tequila with tart-sweet, blood-orange liqueur and pineapple juice. The namesake honey adds a rich, raw sweetness. Here, it’s impossible to refuse another round.

Carnivale, 702 West Fulton Market (at Union Avenue); 312-850-5005.
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Photographed by Grace Willis.
Morgan Street Margarita at Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar
Another mixed drink that does simple syrup right, the Morgan Street Margarita at this Bridgeport classic uses a subtle dose of cayenne-jalapeño syrup to spice up reposado tequila and (organic) lime juice. A hit of mezcal adds a smoky flavor that makes this margarita irresistible.

Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar, 960 West 31st Street (at Morgan Street); 773-890-0588.
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Photographed by Grace Willis.
V-9 Margarita at Mercadito
Knocking back tequila is never the healthiest choice, but Mercadito’s new V-9 at least gets you a dose of veggies, too. Bartenders mix Herradura Blanco with a green juice made from kale, cilantro, pineapple, and ginger root, squeeze in fresh lime juice, and add a touch of agave nectar. Gwyneth would approve, right?

Mercadito, 108 West Kinzie Street (at Clark Street); 312-329-9555.