For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.
If you were lucky enough to get in the door at last night's packed Tequila & Tamales event, you just may have found a new favorite margarita in town. In case you didn't, here's our guide to where you can indulge in a cocktail that's every bit a winter drink as it is a summer cocktail.
10. Xuco Xicana
Home of both the original El Patio margarita and their own house blends, this Midtown Tex-Mex mecca lets you go traditional or upscale.
9. El Patio
The original "Club No Minors" still cranks out some of the headiest margs in Houston. And, yes, they're still neon blue.
A margarita and a tumbler full of shrimp campechana here, and I'm in Gulf Coast seafood heaven. It's a timeless pairing, like crunchy peanut butter and grape jelly. Both are a little pricey, but they're top quality...plus, you're dining in an old, restored rail car, and that can't be beat.
The secret to the margaritas at Spanish Village was helpfully revealed by Houstonist's Kaylan Tannahill back in 2009: "They do not serve frozen margaritas, rather they freeze the lime juice which fractures when the drink is mixed." Just one more thing to love about the old Medical Center favorite (that, and the queso).
This old-school Bellaire favorite has been serving some of the city's best margaritas since 1984. Unfortunately, the live music -- which is one of the most charming things about Pico's -- only runs from Wednesdays through Sundays, so no mariachis for you tomorrow night. Drown your sorrows in a PicoRita Silver or Gold. Both come in a regular size for $5.95 or a "Mucho Grande" size (48 ounces!) for $15.
Along with its new makeover, the original Ninfa's now has revamped margaritas too. Try the winter spiced margarita, one of the new concoctions borne out of a consultancy with Anvil's Bobby Heugel. Or if you're a traditionalist, stick with the old Ninfa's house blend -- they're still cranking it out after all these years.
Frankly, I'd be disappointed if a place called TQLA didn't offer excellent tequilas and margaritas. TQLA also happens to serve up some excellent nuevo Southwestern/Tex-Mex cuisine, but even if you're only in the market for a margarita it's still high on my list of recommended watering holes. Just steer clear on weekend evenings, when Washington Avenue switches into high gear.
God bless Chuy's Texas Tinis and their addictive jalapeño-stuffed olives. These "house" margaritas are always velvety smooth and served up in a classy martini glass that almost makes you forget that you're dining in a restaurant filled with Elvis paintings and photos of people's dead dogs. During happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m., the Texas Tinis are only $6.95. (That seems like a lot for a happy hour price, but these are top-shelf drinks.)
2. El Gran Malo
Of course a place that specializes in tequila infusions should have great margaritas, and El Gran Malo makes its bizarre blends with aplomb. There are standards, of course, like a strawberry that tastes like fresh preserves. But be adventurous here: Try a pecan-infused margarita for a warm, Texas twist or a golden beet blend if you're feeling brave.
This year's Best of Houston® winner gets points for its tequila selection alone -- which features more than 40 choices, counting its bottles of mezcal. Sommelier Sean Beck dreams up exciting twists on the classic cocktail, like El Sueño Profundo with smoky mezcal, but it's the standard Hugorita for $7.50 that we like best. Created with Sauza Silver, Hiram Walker Triple Sec, simple syrup and fresh lime juice, it's mixed tableside. We also love the Y Porque No margarita for only $5 during its weekday happy hours.