If Arizona had a state cocktail, it would have to be the margarita, the tangy salt-rimmed drink that originated...well, no one is quite sure when or where. The 1940s and the Acapulco home of socialite Margarita Sames are top candidates, but there are nearly as many versions of the margarita’s origin as there are recipes for the drink.
I sipped my way through the state for this list of notables and their recipes. It was tough to choose only four margaritas for top honors in the state; there were many, many great contenders. My picks are based not only on taste (although that was foremost), but also on the sipping atmosphere. Salud!
For a complete run-down of the options, as well as lots of fascinating tequila lore, see: ¡Toma! Margaritas! The Original Guide to Margaritas and Tequila by Robert Plotkin and Ray Flores (Flores is the owner/operator of El Charro Cafe in Tucson).
Bottoms Up: Four Unforgettable Arizona Margaritas
[Note: Brands of tequila and other ingredients were specified by some, but not all, of the recipe providers. Unless otherwise noted, these drinks are to be served on the rocks, and in classic margarita glasses rimmed with kosher salt.]
To create simple syrup: Bring water to a boil, add sugar, let cool. The proportions are traditionally 2:1, that is, for every cup of water, add a 1/2 cup of sugar.
The “Real” Margarita: Dos Silos, Tubac Golf Resort, Tubac
Mexico City-native Abel Garcia, chef/owner of Dos Silos, once created the “World’s Largest Margarita” – 1,200 gallons! – for the opening of a restaurant in El Paso. The classic that he created for this creative Mexican eatery isn’t nearly as large, but it still packs a wallop. The idyllic setting, on former Spanish land flanking the Santa Cruz River, adds to the mellowing effect.
The “Real” Margarita
- 1½ oz Zapopan reposado tequila
- ½ oz fresh lime juice
- ½ oz simple syrup
- ¾ oz DeKuyper triple sec
The Huckleberry Rita: Roaring Fork, Scottsdale
Nothing says happy hour like a frozen margarita, and the berry, berry good one at this watering hole for urban cowboys and cowgirls is a definite after-work – and after-play – crowd pleaser (caveat: it goes down extremely smoothly; remember to sip slowly). Grab a stool at the “saloon” or settle into a white-clothed table in the restaurant; both share a Southwest flair in food and drink.
The Huckleberry Rita
- Ice (enough to fill blender)
- 2 1/2 oz silver tequila
- 1 1/4 oz triple sec
- 3 oz frozen limeade (do not dilute)
- juice of one fresh lime
Blend until smooth but thick. Put mix into a 10-oz ice cream cone-shaped glass. Squeeze ¾ oz “Huckleberry Magic” puree into the center of the glass.
Huckleberry Magic Puree
Cook 16 oz huckleberries, ½ cup sugar, 2 cups water together until they are soft. Put into a squeeze bottle. [Note: If you do not have access to huckleberries, substitute blueberries.]
The 24K Margarita: La Hacienda, Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
What would you expect from a restaurant showered with diamonds – four of them from AAA, making La Hacienda one of only two Mexican restaurants in the U.S. thus honored – but a margarita that contains gold? This is a super-premium experience in every way: the family hacienda-style atmosphere; the excellent Mexican regional fare; and, of course, the top-shelf tequila.
The 24K Margarita
- 1 ½ oz Patron silver tequila
- 1 ½ oz Patron platinum tequila
- ¾ oz Cent Cinquantenaire (150th anniversary) Grand Marnier
- 1 ½ oz fresh lime juice
- 1 ½ oz simple syrup
- 1/3 cup of ice
Salt the rim of a large martini glass with 1/2 regular kosher salt and 1/2 gold kosher salt (kosher salt mixed with gold dust, which can be purchased at a bakery supply shop). Shake all ingredients and pour into the glass. Garnish with genuine gold leaves (also available at bakery supply shops) and gold dust. Serve with wedge of fresh cut lime.
The Prickly Presidente: The Cowboy Club, Sedona
Cowboy artists and Western movie stars used to frequent this Sedona institution (opened in 1946) when it was called the Oak Creek Tavern. The original bar and its more upscale adjunct, the Silver Spur dining room, remain a premier place for locals and visitors to kick back and relax with appetizers like cactus fries, such entrees as bone-in ribeye steak – and of course, great margaritas.
The Prickly Presidente
- ½ oz Jose Cuervo La Familia tequila
- ½ oz Centenaire (100th anniversary) Grand Marnier
- ½ oz Cointreau
- ½ oz Cahill prickly pear syrup
- ½ oz freshly squeezed lime juice
- 4 oz sweet and sour mix
(Updated by the Arizona Office of Tourism - 2009)