Margaritas with a Twist


One of life’s simple pleasures – an icy-cold margarita on a summer afternoon. Local restaurants are offering fresh updates for our favorite frosty treats by swapping the standby Cointreau and tequila recipe for lighter ingredients and liqueurs. The result is a refreshing riff on the traditional juxtaposition of sweet and slightly sour margarita flavors we love without the heavy, boozy aftermath.

Mixologists agree: what distinguishes a fantastic margarita boils down to quality ingredients and interesting tastes. “You want to have a balance of flavor,” says Nacional 27 Mixologist Liz Samples.

Instead of heavy syrup or liqueur, natural fruits and different tequila flavors are being used to sweeten drinks. “I’ve seen a lot of combining sweetness from fruit with the spiciness of a pepper,” says Salud Tequila Lounge General Manager Adam Geenen.

Along with this sweet-heat composition, the newer varieties are replacing the typical Triple Sec orange flavor. At Nacional 27, Ms. Samples uses Rhum Clement Creole Shrubb orange flavored rum in margaritas, while Masa Azul’s Gypsy cocktail features blanco tequila mixed with limonada and tart Luxardo maraschino liqueur, a spirit more commonly paired with gin. Another unusual option is the Elderflower Margarita at Salud Tequila Lounge, which pairs agave nectar with St. Germain liqueur’s peach, grapefruit, orange and pear notes.

Fruits and liqueurs aren’t the only seasonal switches on cocktail menus. “Tequila is a growing spirit experiencing a huge revival right now,” says Carnivale Mixologist Daryl Freeman. Instead of the standard blanco tequila with its citrusy, sweet agave flavor, bolder options, such as smoky mescal, are featured.

Our alternative margarita favorites include Nacional 27’s classic N27 margarita, the exceptional Russell in the Tumbleweeds at Masa Azul with mezcal and Serrano chile, and two Topolobampo options: the Champagne margarita and the delicious tamarind margarita featuring Wahaka mezcal, agave syrup and tamarind puree. But when there’s a taste for the tried-and-true, it’s hard to beat the Familia Partida margarita at Salpicón, made with pure blue agave tequila.

What’s your favorite margarita on your menu?

Liz Samples
General Manager and Mixologist, Nacional 27

“Our classic N27 and el Corazon Riff are great margaritas, but I really like our seasonal options: blood orange, strawberry, watermelon or peach. We’re using fruit products that are in season and at their best. It’s a unique way of presenting a margarita that makes drinking fun and vibrant.”

Jenny Kessler
Beverage Director, Masa Azul

“The Russell in the Tumbleweeds, dubbed for my friend Russell. It has Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal, Serrano peppers, limonada and is topped with red pepper juice and garnished with a flower that looks like a flaming tumbleweed and tastes like asparagus. It’s a really cool concept.”

Jordan Johnston
Mixologist, Topolobampo

“I am pretty into our Rhubarb Cassis Margarita. We include Cazadors blanco tequila, lime juice, Torres orange Triple Sec, Jules Theuriet Crème de Cassis black currant liqueur, rhubarb puree and a hibiscus tea mixed with sugar on the rim. It’s served in a martini glass with Jamaica sugar and a lime wedge.”

Adam Geenen
General Manager, Salud Tequila Lounge

“I like our Elderflower Margarita, but I’m really a fan of the classic margarita. Our recipe is really basic. Cointreau or Triple Sec is left out. Instead, we use 2 ounces tequila, 1 ounce fresh lime juice and 1 ounce agave nectar that lets the natural tequila flavors shine through.”

Daryl Freeman
Mixologist, Carnivale

“Right now, the Strawberry Rhubarb Margarita is definitely my favorite. It is the best of both worlds. For the traditionalist, you are getting the fresh strawberry taste. Then, we put in a seasonal twist with the rhubarb, which is a little bitter and not as sweet. The two flavors balance out and create a perfect citrus set up for a beautiful, well-balanced and refreshing cocktail.”


Debra Lipson

About Debra Lipson

Debra Lipson is a freelance writer based in Chicago. Focused on feature writing, her published work spans from fashion and beauty to the arts and profiles. A graduate of DePaul University, she recently began a yearlong graduate program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A self-proclaimed magazine junkie, she enjoys reading whatever she can get her hands on.