The original margarita is a classic for a reason. With just three ingredients – Cointreau, tequila, and lime juice – it’s a relaxing beach vacation in a glass. However, the margarita’s simple foundational ingredients mean that this cocktail is easily customizable, and bartenders across the country have adapted the margarita to reflect different regions of the United States. Depending on where you live, you’ll find types of margaritas that break from tradition and pay homage to the state where they were created.
Curious drinkers can find margaritas with floral notes or spicy and smoky ingredients that represent (mostly, though not exclusively) the warmest parts of the country, stretching from the Southwest to the Southeast and beyond. These regional ingredients, from sage, to jerk spice, to hibiscus flowers, add character and color to the straightforward margarita – and a glimpse into the diversity of America’s palate.
Here are seven variations on the margarita that use regional ingredients that you can find in bars in Hawaii, Florida, Arizona and more.
1. Tucson, Arizona: Green chile liqueur margarita
The Southwest is America’s green chile capital, where it’s incorporated into salsa, stew, marinades, and, yes, even cocktails. The spicy pepper’s hint of smokiness makes an obvious compliment to the tang and spice of a margarita.
At the Hotel Congress in Tucson, the Congress Margarita is all about that heat: In addition to green chile liqueur, the chiltepin – a tiny red chile in the shape of a berry that grows wild in Arizona – seasons the rim and a slice of jalapeño serves as the garnish.
One to try: The Congress Margarita at Hotel Congress, Hotel Congress, 311 E Congress St, Tucson, AZ 85701
2. Hawaii: Hibiscus margarita
For a tropical twist on the margarita, try one infused with hibiscus syrup and garnished with the red flower. The hibiscus flower is native to Hawaii (in fact, the yellow version is state flower) and lends a tart, refreshing flavor to teas and cocktails. Hibiscus also imparts a hot pink hue to the cocktail. The hibiscus margarita at the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, Maui, adds a dash of raspberry puree to the mix for an extra splash of fruit flavor.
One to try: RC-biscus Rita at Ritz-Carlton 1 Ritz Carlton Dr, Kapalua, HI 96761
3. Austin, Texas: Sotol margarita
Sotol, also known as the desert spoon plant, is native to Mexico and parts of West Texas. Used to distill a spirit of the same name, the sotol shrub produces a liquor that is similar to tequila and tastes bright, crisp, vegetal, or grassy. Aba, a Mediterranean restaurant in Austin, created a sotol margarita that also incorporates LALO Blanco tequila – an Austin-based company that produces its tequila in Jalisco.
One to try: There Is No Spoon margarita at Aba, 1011 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
4. Miami: Jerk spiced agave margarita
Jerk cooking originated in Jamaica. This blend of allspice, thyme, nutmeg, brown sugar, and Scotch bonnet peppers pairs as well with margaritas as with food in Miami. Tequila and spicy heat go hand in hand, and the sweet and smoky flavors of jerk seasoning will transport you into the warmth of a tropical getaway. One version at Mamey in Miami uses agave seasoned with jerk spices and combines strawberry cordial and watermelon juice for an extra punch of summery fruit flavor.
One to try: Jerk Margarita at Mamey, 1350 S Dixie Hwy, Coral Gables, FL 33146
5. Los Angeles: Prickly pear margarita
The prickly pear cactus thrives in California’s desert climate. The pink egg-shaped fruit, which sits atop the cactus like a crown, is similar in flavor to watermelon and, like hibiscus, turns the margarita a playful magenta color. At La Cuevita in Los Angeles, refreshing prickly pear replaces the more traditional orange liqueur and is paired with habanero tequila for a hint of heat.
One to try: The Blind Pear Margarita at La Cuevita, 5922 N Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90042
6. Denver: Sage margarita
Sage grows wild on the hillsides of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. This exceptionally earthy herb is sometimes described as peppery or musky, with hints of pine and citrus. The iconic and historic Brown Palace hotel in Denver adds a smoked sage simple syrup to its margarita to pair with the innate smokiness of blanco tequila.
One to try: The Sage Horia at The Brown Palace, 321 17th St, Denver, CO 80202
7. Little Rock, Arkansas: Herbal margarita
Herbs grow all over the country, but the margarita served at Pink House Alchemy in Little Rock incorporates one hyper-local element: The “herbalicious” syrup, packed with rosemary, mint, lavender, and thyme, grown at Heifer Village & Urban Farm in Little Rock. The name of the margarita is inspired by a Little Rock icon, too: Daisy Bates, an American civil rights activist, who fought for school desegregation in Arkansas.
One to try: The Daisy Bates at Pink House Alchemy, 928 N College Ave, Fayetteville, AR 72701