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Rest of the Best 2014: Houston's Top 10 Margaritas

The classic margarita at Hugo's is a summertime must.
The classic margarita at Hugo's is a summertime must.
Photo courtesy Hugo's

Our 2013 Best of Houston® winners were announced a while back, but in many cases, picking the best item in any category was no easy task. In order to show off all the culinary greatness Houston has to offer, we're continuing to round up the "rest of the best" in some of our favorite categories. Bon appétit!

We usually do a margarita round up every February to coincide with National Margarita day. But as much as we love margaritas, February isn't usually a time of year we want to sit outside on a deck and sip something frozen. Whoever decided that a holiday celebrating chilled tequila and lime should take place during the winter is dumb.

But enough about arbitrary food holidays. We drink margaritas year-round in Texas, though we're especially inclined to indulge during the blisteringly hot summer months, when few things can cool you off like a frozen marg and a bit of a buzz. So now that the season calls for 'em, we're rounding up the best margaritas in Houston. It's a tough job (they're all pretty damn good), but someone had to get drunk conduct a scientific taste test.

You're welcome, Houston.

Best Fancy Alamo Drafthouse For George Clooney's film The Monuments Men, Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas introduced The Clooney, a margarita made with Clooney's Casamigos tequila. Don't let the fact that it's a movie theater margarita dissuade you -- it's one of the best in town. It's a simple margarita done right with reposado tequila, Cointreau, Grand Marnier and the ideal balance of simple syrup and lime juice served on the rocks. I don't know if it's the Clooney tequila or the old Hollywood atmosphere that makes the drink feel fancy, but either way, it's a treat.

Best Beer-Rita Bodegas Taco Shop Ahh, the beer-rita. No, not that nasty concoction that places without a liquor license serve and call a margarita. We're talking a frozen margarita with a beer dumped right in. Once upon a time, these beers (always Mexican like Dos Equis or Corona) were balanced in the large margarita glass. Today, there's a special beer bottle holder that sits on the rim, ensuring your beer bottle doesn't spill or fall out. The frozen margaritas at Bodegas are tart and fresh, and when coupled with a beer, they're even better.

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Best Infused El Big Bad Like its predecessor El Gran Malo, El Big Bad is known for its shelves and shelves of infused tequilas in every flavor from vanilla and cinnamon to three chile to strawberry and guava. Order a margarita with any infused tequila or mix and match to create the perfect blend. The infusions change seasonally to reflect the freshest ingredients, and they always contain fresh-squeezed juices--never mixes. Of course, because they're prepared to order, they're all served on the rocks. To jazz them up a little, ask for a floater. Strawberry margarita with a peanut butter tequila floater? Yes, ladies and gents, that's what we call a PB&J-rita.

Best Radioactive Color El Patio The margaritas at El Patio are the stuff of legend for two reasons: It's hella strong, and it's hella blue. It's not one of those margaritas with a faintly fruity hue or a swirl of color amid the usual greenish margarita tint. This thing is blue. Electric blue. Cookie Monster on acid blue. We're not sure exactly what makes these lime margaritas neon blue, but we're also not sure we want to know. Just keep drinking...

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Try a swirl of sangria for a fun, flavored margarita.
Try a swirl of sangria for a fun, flavored margarita.
Photo courtesy El Tiempo

Best Flavored El Tiempo Lime margaritas are so passé. These days it's all about the strawberry or the mango. At El Tiempo, you can get frozen margaritas in a variety of flavors including peach, mango, raspberry, strawberry, melon, coconut and sangria. They're made by mixing fruit purée into the regular frozen lime mix, creating a swirl of flavor and color that's paired with the same great margarita you know and love. Try the sangria for a little something different. It's not quite as sweet as the fruit offerings, and, well, it's also alcoholic. And they say you shouldn't mix wine and liquor. Ha.

Best Classic Hugo's Hugo Ortega's regional Mexican restaurant offers more than 40 different types of tequila and mezcal, so it's no wonder the margaritas here are excellent. Though the menu includes some riffs on the classic 'rita with ginger syrup or peach nectar, we think the best marg on the menu is the Hugo Rita for only $7.50. It's made with Sauza Silver, Hiram Walker Triple Sec, simple syrup and fresh lime juice, and it's prepared tableside, so you know exactly what you're getting. Simple, fresh margarita perfection.

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Best Value The Don'Key During Happy Hour at The Don'Key, a small margarita is $3, and a large is only a dollar more, so you might as well upgrade. The restaurant calls its margaritas "ass-kicking" in reference to the donkey mascot, but they are also quite potent--in fact, there's a rumor they're spiked with Everclear. We think that's just a rumor, though, as we've seen the on-the-rocks versions prepared before our very eyes, and there's no Everclear involved, just a heavy pouring hand and a very large glass.

The Pastry War's frozen margarita is pretty perfect.
The Pastry War's frozen margarita is pretty perfect.
Photo by Julie Soefer

Best Frozen Pastry War When Bobby Heugel of Anvil opened The Pastry War downtown, he claimed he would make the best and the cheapest margaritas in town. While we don't know about cheapest (The Don'Key has you beat there), they are undoubtedly the best frozen margaritas this side of the Rio Grande. Many people generally shy away from frozen margaritas because they taste like a mix or are too weak, but Heugel has figured out the formula for the perfect frozen cocktail. He uses real lime juice (both key limes and Persian limes) as well as agave nectar and better-than-well tequila. For an extra treat, get a green chartreuse floater or a flavor like ginger or mole.

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Most Boozy Pico's Mex-Mex Go ahead. Try to drink two large (grande) margaritas at Pico's Mex-Mex then pass a breathalyzer test. One of Pico's signature 27-ounce margaritas is enough to get most people feeling really good. Two will likely have you on the floor. The best (and worst) thing about them is they don't taste super strong or boozy. They're smooth sipping with just a hint of a bite from 100 percent agave silver tequila, and they're served frozen or on the rocks. Oh, and one more thing: Though the 27-ounce 'rita is called a large, there is also a 48-ounce margarita on the menu. Drink it if you dare.

Most Unique Spanish Village Back in 2009, the Houstonist's Kaylan Tannahill revealed the secret behind Spanish Village's delicious frozen margaritas. The vintage Tex-Mex restaurant doesn't make a margarita and then freeze it. Instead, the bartenders freeze fresh squeezed lime juice then put that in a blender with tequila and a sweetener. The blending causes the lime juice to fracture, creating a texture unique to the agave margaritas at Spanish Village.

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