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5 Best Margaritas In L.A.

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Tue, Mar 20, 2012 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge A Fantastically Plain (Freshly Made) Margarita - DAINA BETH SOLOMON
  • Daina Beth Solomon
  • A Fantastically Plain (Freshly Made) Margarita
Ten years ago -- maybe even five years in Happy Hour time -- compiling the 5 Best Margaritas in L.A. would have been a syrupy lime-mix task. Now we're awash in so many small-batch tequilas and fresh-squeezed lime promises on cocktail menus that the idea of a $100 margarita is somehow (?) not terribly shocking. Much as we wanted to include some of our favorite places for Mexican eats and old-fashioned good times (any of Guelaguetza's outposts, El Carmen in West Hollywood, Lares in Santa Monica, we could go on), imbibing-wise, the drinks at our regular haunts are more like those side orders of rice -- not nearly as good on their own as they are with heaps of spicy food alongside.

On the flipside, while we think today's trendy pomegranate-mango and cucumber-muddled margarita variations can be great tequila-based cocktails if the right bartender is involved, to us they're tequila-based cocktails, not margaritas, much as anyone behind the bar will try to convince us otherwise (see our #2 pick). Ah, semantics. And yes, we realize our old-school Texas margarita authenticity stance makes it even more hilariously ironic that our favorite "classic" margaritas today are centered in L.A.'s cocktail alley, that corridor of downtown where $12 cocktails are mixed by suspender-clad hipsters in bars that could double as Boardwalk Empire sets. Ah, the glory days of average -- but affordable -- $6 margaritas served up with free chips, salsa and plenty of dive-bar sass.

5. Ortega 120:

If you're a margarita purist like us, it's wise to skip the sunny pomegranate-ginger and other beachside-inspired margarita combos at Ortega 120 and go straight for the classic house margarita. This is the sort of margarita you can still order by the pitcher, a rarity among today's carefully layered fresh lime juice cocktail set, more so as this pitcher is refreshingly sweet and sour mix-free. 1814 S. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach, (310) 792-4120.

click to enlarge Yxta's Cadillac Margarita - DAINA BETH SOLOMON
  • Daina Beth Solomon
  • Yxta's Cadillac Margarita
4. Yxta Cocina Mexicana:

The quality of cocktails downtown has set the citywide bar for the rest of the L.A.-area, and margaritas are no exception. Consider Yxta, the sister restaurant to the 1960s-strong El Arco Iris in Highland Park. The latter serves up perfectly acceptable margaritas, Yxta makes much better ones. Particularly the Cadillac margarita (reposado tequila and Grand Marnier), the 1980s definition of "top shelf" that despite all of the añejo and housemade orange liqueur talk today is still pretty darn great weekend kick-starting fuel. 601 S. Central Ave., downtown, (213) 596-5579.

Turn the page for #3, etc...

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