Best of Denver

The Twelve Best House Margaritas in Denver

Sip a margarita while you reflect on Mexican history for Cinco de Mayo.
Sip a margarita while you reflect on Mexican history for Cinco de Mayo. Danielle Lirette
Is there a more widely riffed-on classic cocktail than the margarita? Or, perhaps more accurately, is there a classic cocktail of which variations are more widely accepted and embraced? What started as a simple drink mixed with tequila, lime and sweetener has morphed into a canvas on which bartenders play out elaborate, booze-fueled fantasies. Cocktail menus at trendy Mexican restaurants often list a half-dozen variations on the margarita theme, adulterating the drink with everything from beer to jalapeños to prickly pear to frozen strawberries — sometimes all at the same time.

Some of those variations are quite good; others are merely drinkable. But those aren't what we're celebrating as we set the table for Cinco de Mayo. We're paying homage to the more classic versions of the margarita on menus around town, the house pours of citrus and tequila and maybe a little agave syrup or orange liqueur. We're honoring the margaritas you want to drink all afternoon long while you polish off a bushel of chips and a vat of salsa and a taco or two, to boot. The prospect of that food pairing was essential to making our list, and also the reason that this list doesn't include any of Denver's venerable classic cocktail bars, even though they often make excellent house margaritas. Essential, too, was the use of tequila (hey, the ’70s and ’80s really did a number on the margarita — including the fact that tequila was optional back then) and not using bottled sweet-and-sour mix. Even controlling for those factors, house margs still saw wide variation. Each one on this list is a worthy centerpiece for a lingering conversation, a round too many and another basket of chips.

Without further ado: Metro Denver twelve best house margaritas, in alphabetical order.

The new Adelitas margarita contains no processed sugar, agave syrup or triple sec. - LAURA SHUNK
The new Adelitas margarita contains no processed sugar, agave syrup or triple sec.
Laura Shunk
1. Adelitas Cocina y Cantina
1294 South Broadway

"Use a good brand" of all-natural tequila in your margarita, recommends Adelitas proprietor Brian Rossi. After all, "how many things can you do to a traditional margarita? It's about the materials that go into it." We'll vouch for that simple approach; it landed Adelitas our Best House Margarita award three years in a row, even as the bar staff switched tequila brands, thus tweaking this drink's backbone, and, more recently nixed all processed sugar, agave syrup and triple sec in its drinks. The restaurant is currently working with Arette tequila, which comes from one of the oldest tequila-producing families in Jalisco. Married to lime and beet sugar cooked down with oranges, it results in a cocktail that's smooth with a sweet-tart balance, an excellent showcase for the delicate nature of Arette.

click to enlarge Orange juice makes Comida's house margarita extra-drinkable. - LAURA SHUNK
Orange juice makes Comida's house margarita extra-drinkable.
Laura Shunk
2. Comida Cantina
3550 Brighton Boulevard, 303-296-2747
2501 Dallas Street, Aurora, 303-484-1632
721 Confidence Drive, Longmont, 720-204-6455
Comida's house margarita starts with Monte Alban Plata tequila, which gets mixed with sweet agave syrup, lemon, lime and orange juice. That last ingredient trumps up the orange note that's usually just background music in this cocktail, and it makes the drink easily one of the most poundable in this roundup. Luckily, you can order this margarita by the glass or by the massive jar-full; as long as you're not drinking alone, you ought to opt for the latter.

click to enlarge The Tommy's house margarita at Dos Santos. - LAURA SHUNK
The Tommy's house margarita at Dos Santos.
Laura Shunk
3. Dos Santos
1475 East 17th Avenue

We are absolute suckers for a good Tommy's margarita, so named for the San Francisco restaurant that made famous the blend of tequila, lime and simple syrup: it's sweeter than your triple-sec-spiked version, but it sure does go down easily, and come warm weather, it's all we want to drink. And so Dos Santos, which serves a Tommy's house margarita, had us — hook, lime and sinker — from first sip. To its simple blend of lime and agave, Dos Santos adds high-quality Arette tequila, a complex and verdant showcase in a drink otherwise simply presented in a jar with a wedge of lime and a bit of salt. This margarita earned Dos Santos our Best House Margarita award in this year's Best of Denver.

click to enlarge El Chingon's coin-style namesake margarita. - LAURA SHUNK
El Chingon's coin-style namesake margarita.
Laura Shunk
4. El Chingon
4326 Tennyson Street

Our entreaty to Coin-style margarita enthusiasts: Get thee to El Chingon, which serves up one of the best Coin-style quaffers in this town as its namesake margarita. Fortaleza Blanco tequila, Cointreau and fresh-squeezed citrus blend here for a well-balanced drink unadulterated with excess sugar, and a fine-salt rim provides a nice alternative to the coarse version you normally encounter.

click to enlarge El Jefe's house margarita comes with a salt-sugar rim. - LAURA SHUNK
El Jefe's house margarita comes with a salt-sugar rim.
Laura Shunk
5. El Jefe
2450 West 44th Avenue

When first your lips touch El Jefe's La Casa marg, they meet sweet; a sugar-salt rim halos this rocks glass, and it serves as a refreshing surprise. As for the margarita itself, the bar adds a touch of agave to its Centinela Clasico tequila, triple sec and lime, a flourish that doesn't so much candify this cocktail as it does smooth it out, making it easy to gulp and follow with a second round.

click to enlarge Hefe's house marg draws a crowd in Longmont. - LAURA SHUNK
Hefe's house marg draws a crowd in Longmont.
Laura Shunk
6. Hefe's Tacos and Tequila
246 Main Street, Longmont

The Rocks Margarita at this tricked-out Longmont cantina is a mix of Zarco tequila, fresh squeezed lime juice and simple syrup. We've already mentioned our love for Tommy's-style quaffers, and that applies here: This is one of the simplest cocktails on this list, and it's also one of the easiest-drinking. Hefe's spices up the deal by giving its drink an unusual rim, blending sugar, salt, dried chile and cumin, adding subtle heat to the flavor profile without overwhelming the balance. Get this margarita by the $4 glass or the $15 pitcher.

Keep reading for six more delicious house margaritas...

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk