S.F. is a hotbed for artisanal everything, so of course, our margaritas are no exception. Cue the fresh juices, top-shelf tequilas, and nix the ready-made mixes, please. Not to toot our own horn, but in our cocktail-swillin’ tenure, we’ve noticed that ambience (like a sunny patio) and the proper garnish (chili salt, extra-spicy) can elevate the average marg to the stuff of gods.
If you share our obsession with the fiesta in a glass, then mamacita — use this handy map to source the best frozen drinks in the Bay. After all, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!
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SoMa tequila lounge Tres is a big-time devotee to the agave plant and the cuisine of Jalisco, Mexico, where the spirit is made. With a focus on authenticity, the bar pours a traditional 2-1-1 margarita with 100% agave tequila and nectar, and fresh lime juice. It even holds the salt, which some think masks the true taste of tequila. Order one, which the lounge festively mixes by tossing the aforementioned contents between two pitchers, and you will be very happy with your choice. Nonetheless, even the purists at Tres aren't immune to the artisanal craze that's swept our city. On the menu, you'll be delightfully surprised to find Sweet Heat, made with Chinaco Reposado, Licor 43, jalapeño puree, lime juice, and yes, chili salt. One swig and you'll understand why even the most time-honored traditions should be broken every now and then.
Tres Tequila Lounge, 130 Townsend Street (at Stanford Street); 415-227-0500.
Photos: Courtesy of Tres Tequila Lounge
Say what you will about this mini-chain, but its signature frozen pomegranate margarita is so. damn. good. If it hasn't passed your lips at one of Rosa Mexicano's 16 locations across the country, what are you waiting for?! The S.F. address is centrally located in the Embarcadero — ideal for the hosting of business associates. Have that corporate card handy, because one is never enough. Also noteworthy on the extensive menu is the Rosalita "Skinny" margarita. At only 158 calories a go, it makes a prudent round-two with bikini season well underway. What's more, it's mixed with one of our all-time fave sipping tequila, Casa Noble, so it may be lean, but there's a lot to love!
Rosa Mexicano, 30 Mission Street (between Steuart Street and The Embarcadero); 415-874-4300.
Photos: Courtesy of Rosa Mexicano
Blessed with jaw-dropping views of the Bay, the patio at Hotel Vitale's restaurant, Americano, is easy on the eyes and, after five o'clock, is a prime spot for making eyes with the FiDi set. With plenty of rustic bench seating and twinkling string lights, it is one of our favorite afterwork places to nibble on antipasti housemade pickles with — of course — that trusty marg in hand. Bar manager John Graham Taylor aims to please; he'll shake one up to your specs any way you like. One of our faves is the perky Pama Pomegranate Marg, purported to have circulation-boosting powers. It is an instant mood-lifter in a glass.
Americano, 8 Mission Street (between Steuart Street and The Embarcadero); 415-278-3777.
Photos: Courtesy of Americano
Like the rebels we are, the name of this drink, "Carbonated Motherfucking Margarita" was the clincher. It had us at hello, nevermind that it's being poured at the Mission’s spot du jour, a burger pop-up from Chris Kronner, a former chef at Tartine. The naughty marg, invented by bar manager Gabriel Lowe, is sweetened with agave nectar and mixed with fresh lime juice and Espolon blanco tequila. The drink is then force carbonated, a process borrowed from home-brewing beer, poured over a jumbo slow-melting cube of ice, and then finished off with a dash of orange bitters and a generous orange twist. One sip, and you'll know why it deserves its swear-word name.
KronnerBurger, 2379 Mission Street (between 19th and 20th streets); 415-656-9871.
Photographed by Ashley Batz (Drink); Maria del Rio (Location)
Not your cookie-cutter Southwestern restaurant, the honky-tonk here is inflected with sassy Bay Area know-how and zesty dishes. Of course, it helps that the in-house genius barman is Brent Butler, who stops at nothing to reimagine the classic marg with homemade tinctures and out-of-the-box spirits. His latest and greatest, La Flama Blanca, is made with an overproof 110 Tapatio blanco from cult-master distiller Carlos Camarena — plus fresh lime, jalapeño, and green Chartreuse. The result is the brightest, juiciest 'rita in these parts.
West of Pecos, 550 Valencia Street (between 16th & 17th Streets); 415-252-7000.
Photos: Courtesy of Dylan MacNiven
If your intent is setting the night on fire, the Mission is teeming with dives, but the Latin American Club stands above the rest for truly unforgettable times. In fact, it's a local legend — a boozy playground for irony and nostalgia-loving youths with its dingy strung-up pinatas, lively people-watching, and cheap and cheerful vinyl chairs. You'll be wanting that seat, because the margs here are the stiffest around. Things tend to go from tipsy to sloppy, pronto, with barmen playing it fast and loose with the bottle. If you have ever complained about watered-down drinks, this is your bar. Lightweights (you know who you are) steer clear!
Latin American Club, 3286 22nd Street (at Valencia Street); 415-647-2732.
Photographed by Anna-Alexia Basile
This Mission gastropub, as you might infer from the name, specializes in ham and oysters — so it's no shocker that the margarita kicks it up a notch with sweet, smoky, and intense flavors to complement the plates. Its Strawberry Basalmic Margarita, developed by crazy-creative mixer Scott Beattie and Michael Lazar, is a multi-leg-taste journey. It takes you to the smokehouse with its mezcal float and cracked black pepper, and before you know it, there's a hit of freshness in the form of a fragrant, tangy strawberry and balsamic reduction. It leaves the palette cleansed, and your body very hungry for something savory.
Hog and Rocks, 3431 19th Street (between San Carlos & Mission streets); 415-550-8627.
Photo: Courtesy of Molly DeCoudreaux
Little known fact: The frozen marg, shunned by many purists, is actually served all over Mexico and enjoyed by locals — not just spring breakers. Trust Mosto, the tequila bar next door to T-lish, to show us the light. Its frozens are not the sugary, neon-glow variety we've previously encountered. This version is made with lime, tequila, and agave, blended to order, and served in a martini glass, not a plastic hurricane — for a classy touch. Pair it with some tacos al pastor, and now we're talking.
Mosto, 741 Valencia Street (between 18th and 19th streets); 415-626-1344.
Photos: Courtesy of Ed Anderson (Drink); Courtesy of Tyler Gourtney (Location)
While so much of Valencia Street has undergone a recent metamorphosis, the refreshingly untrendy Puerto Alegre opened in 1970, and is still going strong with long waits on the weekends. That's reassuring, since the margaritas here are consistently referenced as the best in town. And, it's no wonder, since the owners originally hail from Jalisco, the birthplace of tequila. Order up a pitcher for $22 big ones, and it can easily quench six thirsty adults. The drink is just what you need to wash down the giant portions of solid traditional fare. Bonus tip: The guac is some of the best we've ever had.
Puerto Alegre, 546 Valencia Street (between 16th and 17th streets); 415-255-8201.
Photographed by Ashley Batz
Velvet Cantina is birthday-party central for one simple reason. The folks there are the hostesses with the mostest. Its awesome staff handles big parties and splits checks like champs; the portions are large and ideal for sharing, and there's atmospheric lighting that's hazy red, like those found in a Cabo dive. And, did we mention the margs? They're cheap, strong, and so good at washing down party platters of nachos, enchiladas, and empanadas. Made with organic citrus juice and quality tequila, you and your friends will go nuts. The next day, the margs will be remembered fondly even as you nurse your hangover.
Velvet Cantina, 3349 23rd Street (at Bartlett Street); 415-648-4142.
Photographed by Ashley Batz
When you hear mixologists go on about "Tommy-style" margs, the establishment of which they are speaking is our local Tommy's, in the Richmond. Like pisco punch, also invented here, this classic is one of S.F.’s great contributions in recent times to the cocktail world. Owner Julio Bermejo is the genius behind the perfectly balanced recipe sweetened by agave nectar rather than triple sec. Known far and wide, this temple of tequila could use a decor refresh (it's been in business since 1965), but if you are a marg enthusiast, it is absolutely worth a trip. You'll see locals and tourists alike sipping from over 300 brands of tequila (and an additional 110 if you're a card-carrying member of Tommy's Agave Club). For round one, we say keep it simple and find out what the fuss is about by sipping down the house speciality.
Tommy's, 5929 Geary Boulevard (between 23rd and 24th streets); 415-387-4747.
Photographed by Ashley Batz
This clubby Japanese-Mexican fusion restaurant demands a girls-night-out libation, and holds its own with the menu's sake bombs. The Diabla Peligrosa brings it, but no matter what you order, this is a fun no-brainer time, in line with the grub mash-ups. The marg in question is made with Jose Cuervo, lime, and simple syrup with a few add-ons: crème de cassis, ginger ale, and fresh jalapeños. A craft cocktail this is not, but people, come on, it's the Marina and it's summer! So, when in Rome, you gotta let your inner sorority girl out once in awhile. Woot, woot!
Mas Sake, 2030 Lombard Street (between Fillmore and Webster streets); 415-440-1505.
Photographed by Maria del Rio
You don't necessarily need to schlep to the Mission for legit south-of-the-border eats. Just come to Mama! The Bauer-approved Mamacita is a neighborhood-y joint in the Marina with Californian-inflected, plate-lickin' good offerings. Co-owner and chef Luis Contreras knows a Michelin experience (in 2011 they were honored with Bib Gourmand designation) requires tasty margaritas. You'll definitely find one to your liking on this expert-cocktail menu from the basic house to a pomegranate infusion and fresh-muddled strawberries. For high rollers, there is the Mendoza, mixed with El Tesoro anejo tequila. Mama like!
Mamacita, 2317 Chestnut Street (between Divisadero and Scott streets); 415-346-8494.
Photography by Maria del Rio (Drink); Courtesy of Mamacita (Location)
Okay, we're making an exception to the S.F. scene with this one. The cocktail program at Comal, developed by dynamic duo Scott Baird and Josh Harris of The Bon Vivants, hits all the right notes. Lively take on classics? Check. Nosh-friendly libations? Check. Farmers market ingredients? A must in Downtown Berkeley. It's all there in the house's marg, sweetened with a heavenly-scented orange agave nectar, with just the brightness we crave to cut through the richness of the duck enchiladas. (That's our fave plate from chef Matt Gandin, formerly of Delfina, if you're wondering.) While you're here, fight the crowds to the 2500-square-foot hidden patio tucked away in the back. It's expressly for drinks, which is just fine by us.
Comal, 2020 Shattuck Avenue (between University Avenue and Addison Street); 510-926-6300.
Photographed by Maria del Rio
Another must-hit stop over the bridge is Tamarindo. The antijitos or "small cravings" at this elegant old-Oakland restaurant, run by mother and son Gloria and Alfonso Dominguez, are regional Mexican recipes — from the Yucatan, Oaxaca, Mexico City, and mom's hometown state of Jalisco. That means the heat is the real deal. There is no sour cream to save you here — and, if you think reaching for a margarita will wash it down, think again, because glasses are rimmed with chili salt. Our favorite is the Tamarindo, a mix of El Charro silver, lime, agave nectar, and fresh tamarind purée. The latter gives the drink a bracing sour power that hurts so good.
Tamarindo Antojeria, 468 8th Street (between Washington and Broadway streets); 510-444-1944.
Photos: Courtesy of Tamarindo Antojeria
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