This spring, for the second year in a row, SFR brings you the result of our annual Margarita Challenge, a painstakingly exhaustive process of spending an entire Saturday doing research on the best margaritas in town. This time, we visited last year’s top performers—La Fonda’s Bell Tower Bar won best overall margarita, while we dubbed the Cowgirl’s house marg the best bang for your buck—and some perennial favorites (Maria’s, Tesuque Village Market) before embarking in new directions. Here’s a stop-by-stop recounting of our quest to find the best margaritas in Santa Fe.
Tesuque Village Market
138 Tesuque Village Road, 988-8848
Tall, strong drinks in a cozy, creative atmosphere.
Love it: A more creative version of TVM’s delicious silver coin ($12) adds grapefruit for a sourpuss delight ($13).
Leave it: You’ll get a bigger bang for your buck on drinks than food.
Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen
555 W Cordova Road, 983-7929
Family-style dining with uncommonly stiff drinks.
Love it: A list of 200-plus margarita varieties means there’s something for everyone—and, with a range of $7 to $45, for every pocketbook.
Leave it: Flavor sometimes loses out to alcohol content.
113 Washington Ave., 988-3030
A high-end downtown spot with a great little patio out front.
Love it: The silver coin ($11) is tasty.
Leave it: Prices are high, and if the tiny bar area is full, you’ll be stuck standing up, awkwardly sipping.
Low ‘n Slow Lowrider Bar
Hotel Chimayó, 125 Washington Ave., 988-4900
A dark-horse candidate for some of the best cocktails in town.
Love it: Every drink we tried was great, but the inventive, delicious mango-jalapeño marg ($10ish) stood out.
Leave it: The lowrider décor is weird, but oddly comforting.
113 1/2 E Palace Ave., 982-9030
A downtown classic with consistently great margaritas.
Love it: The silver coin ($9.75) is reliably good, but the darker, more flavorful Rebel ($12.75) makes for a more interesting drink.
Leave it: The lunch crush and dinnertime tourist rush can be formidable, but you can avoid them by stopping by between meals.
100 E San Francisco St., 982-5511
An old favorite housed in downtown’s historic hotel.
Love it: Some things—like La Fonda’s historically decorated indoor plaza—never change.
Leave it: Despite serving up last year’s winning concoction, the thirst-quenching Don Rael ($12), La Fonda didn’t shine this year—in part because its scenic rooftop Bell Tower Bar won’t be open until construction ends this summer, but also because a crowded, tourist-oriented bar scene wasn’t conducive to cocktail artistry.
Hotel St. Francis, 210 Don Gaspar Ave., 983-5700
Inside the Hotel St. Francis, a talented mixology staff whips up creative libations.
Love it: Adding a slightly singed twig of desert sage to a skillfully prepared, totally affordable margarita ($7 during happy hour) is a stroke of genius.
Leave it: During happy hour, you may wait 20 minutes for a single drink.
208 Galisteo St., 992-2848
Dive-bar comfort for not-that-fancy downtown denizens.
Love it: The $5 house marg is an unbeatable deal—and, after leaving out a crucial squeeze of lime, our bartender generously remade its raspberry-flavored cousin.
Leave it: Who forgets the lime in a margarita?
132 W Water St., 983-1615
High-end drinking, worth every penny.
Love it: The Norteño marg manages to incorporate green chile without tasting like Bueno ($11); the meringuey layer of lime-salt foam crowning the Señorita ($12) is a revelation.
Leave it: Pricey, and a little fancy, but worth it (plus, lower-key types can hit up the attached rooftop cantina in summer or the downstairs club, The Den, at night).
319 S Guadalupe St., 982-2565
A classic with reasonably priced drinks in a convivial setting.
Love it: The Cowgirl’s house marg ($6) is as good as ever.
Leave it: Tourists. Everywhere.
Coyote Café’s “The Señorita” isn’t your typical margarita, but it’s proof that typical is overrated when it comes to lending some sophistication and elegance to Santa Fe’s classic cocktail.
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2013 Margarita Challenge