Free Spirit

There are three things visitors expect when arriving in San Antonio: Tex-Mex, The Alamo and ice-cold, perfectly mixed margaritas. Offering a plethora of these delectable cocktails in classic and daring flavors, this is one city that does not disappoint.

The margarita is one of the most popular cocktails in the United States, consumed every day in bars and restaurants across the country. But like many good drinks, its origin is shrouded in a hazy mess of conflicting stories, half-truths and speculation.

The prevailing story of the margarita’s creation starts with a Texan. In 1948, Margaret “Margarita” Sames, a Dallas socialite, was vacationing in Acapulco with her husband and friends when she stepped behind the bar. Using tequila and Cointreau, a French liqueur distilled from orange peels, plus fresh lime juice to marry the strong spirit and sweet liqueur, Sames concocted the now-famous cocktail.

Having stood the test of time and proven itself as a refreshing favorite, the margarita is now consumed in variations ranging from “straight up” to “on the rocks” to blended with ice. Long-since diverted from its original three ingredients, today’s margaritas boast flavors like strawberry and peach, and even bold iterations like pomegranate, coconut and avocado. But if it’s the classic you desire, you must focus on your choice of tequila.

Tequila comes in three primary forms: blanco (unaged), reposado (aged two months to one year) and añejo (aged one to three years). For a margarita, choose a blanco or reposado tequila made from 100-percent blue agave, which will yield the margarita’s familiar tequila bite. Añejos, while delicious, are often too smooth to stand up in a margarita and can present strong wood characteristics from their long aging process that will adversely affect the flavor of your drink. For the best results, save the añejos for sipping.

San Antonio’s status as the Mexican culture capital of Texas means that a good margarita is always within arm’s reach. Whether you want to explore exotic flavors or stick with the traditional recipe, cantinas across the city serve up some of the best margaritas you’ve ever tasted.

At San Antonio’s El Jarro de Arturo, all margaritas are made with freshly squeezed lime juice and are available by the glass or by the pitcher. The selection of margaritas varies in the use of Cointreau and Grand Marnier, an orange-flavored liqueur made from cognac. While Cointreau is the traditionalist’s choice, Grand Marnier adds a richness to the drink, while still maintaining the proper flavor profile.

With its Nuevo Mexican fare, hip bar scene and pulsing music, Acenar is not your ordinary River Walk restaurant. Complementing the modern and sophisticated menu are equally good margaritas, from the hand-shaken original to the Tuna Margarita, which—as the name belies—features the refreshing flavors of prickly pear cactus juice. Try the popular Coconut Margarita, a frozen feast of tequila, coconut milk and pineapple.

Situated along the River Walk, Iron Cactus is a popular restaurant and bar that offers weary visitors a cozy respite from the Texas heat. Grab a table or step inside the Agave Room Bar to ogle 80 different tequilas. Sip one “neat,” or pick your potion for a handcrafted margarita. All Iron Cactus margaritas are made with fresh lime juice for a refreshing, citrusy bite.

Opened in 1932, La Fonda on Main claims to be San Antonio’s oldest Mexican restaurant and continues to serve a tasty array of traditional dishes and Tex-Mex favorites. The fresh margaritas range from classic to innovative—like Cactus Pear—and patrons can make it a top shelf ’rita by choosing their favorite tequila.

At Aldaco’s Mexican Cuisine, the award-winning margaritas vary from the La Bonita—made with Don Julio Blanco and without sweet and sour—to the intriguing Avocado Margarita, a creamy concoction that combines the best of the eating and drinking worlds. Finally, if you just want to let loose and have a “party margarita,” head to either La Margarita or Mi Tierra. These sister restaurants serve up fruity, flavored treats in large portions. Can you handle a liter? Coconut, mango, pomegranate, cranberry, peach and passion fruit are just some of the flavors to enjoy. You might need to extend your stay ...