Can a city have an official cocktail? If the answer is yes, then LA’s is unquestionably the margarita. Thanks to year-round sunshine and incredible Mexican restaurants in every corner of the city, you don’t have to look far to find a marvelous margarita. That said, you also don’t have to look far for a bad one.
What makes for a great margarita? That has been the subject of much debate in The Infatuation office, but after some yelling (and an ugly triple-sec tossing incident), we finally agreed on the following criteria: Not too much sweet and sour mix, plenty of alcohol, and a well-salted rim, if that’s your thing. It doesn’t hurt if it’s also served in an environment that actually makes us want to drink margaritas with our friends. After all, this is the ultimate social cocktail - and these 11 are ultimately the best in LA.
You will not find a better (or stronger) margarita in Los Angeles than the one they light on fire at El Compadre. This isn’t some finessed, modern cocktail with cactus root and a dollop of Himalayan crystal foam on top. It’s a classic sweet and sour-kissed margarita with a floating lemon peel full of 151 that they light on fire. Don’t let it burn out on its own. Push the peel down into the drink with your straw, and stir it around to add a smoky flavor that will definitely have you ordering a second. And maybe a third.
This gigantic Mexican restaurant on Beverly has been open since 1931, and though the food isn’t anything to write home about, after a couple of their margaritas, you won’t be able to write anyway. We go for the house version, but if you’re in the mood for something slightly less sweet, the Scratch is always good as well. No matter which one you end up with, just make sure you take advantage of the best drinking hack in the city: Ask for your ice on the side and you’ll get a giant chalice of margarita that basically equals two for the price of one.
With locations in Torrance, Culver City, and West Hollywood, you’re never too far from Madre. And that’s a good thing, because this Oaxacan restaurant serves incredible food in a casual atmosphere with one of the best mezcal stocks in LA. While we certainly support getting involved with a mezcal flight, the one cocktail you can’t miss is their smokey margarita. Made with Mezcal Joven, it’s certainly smoky, but the sweet and spicy notes of the red chile liqueur and agave balance it out perfectly. It’s $13, but if you come during their weekday Happy Hour from 3-6pm, it’s only $9.
This classic Mexican restaurant in Sherman Oaks has 12 different margaritas on their menu, ranging from hibiscus to blended coconut to pineapple basil. While we’ve never had a bad one here, you simply can’t beat the Casa Vega. It’s made with just tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice, meaning it’s not overly sweet - and meaning you will probably down several without even realizing it. But once you do, and suddenly need some food, go for the taco salad or the lobster quesadilla.
Come to this Downtown Tex-Mex spot any night of the week and you’ll find it full of friends and coworkers eating off-menu puffy tacos, going to town on some truly great queso dip, and drinking Amá’s margarita like there’s no tomorrow. It’s a pretty straightforward version (tequila, triple sec, agave, and lime), but the ingredients are high quality and the overall taste isn’t too tart, either. Its chili-salt rim delivers a nice kick at the end.
Since 1980, Casablanca has been serving some of Venice’s most consistent Mexican food in an atmosphere that always seems to be bordering on complete chaos. And if you’re wondering why, look no further than the Tequila Express. It’s a roaming tequila cart manned by a margarita specialist* who will create an “Ultimate Margarita Experience” at your table. Is that basically just another way of saying “A really good margarita”? You bet - but we give them bonus points for the hyperbole.
Cha Cha Cha a rooftop spot in the Arts District and one of our favorite new restaurants. With good food, a lush patio, and sprawling views of Downtown, we’d recommend this Mexican restaurant for just about any occasion that presents itself. Feel free to add “getting boozy” to the growing list. While we’ve liked almost every cocktail we’ve tried at Cha Cha Cha (the red pepper mezcal negroni is a standout), their margarita deserves extra attention. It’s a pretty straightforward version (tequila blanco, lime, and salt), but the secret weapon is the touch of Combier L’Orange, which gives the cocktail a sweet bitterness that’ll stay on your tongue through dinner.
Don Antonio’s is another Westside staple and a place that’s recently expanded its patio into an adjoining parking lot filled with potted plants and papel picado hanging overhead. It’s easily our favorite place to hang outside on Pico - a fact solidified by their excellent margaritas. Each one comes either squeezed and shaken or blended to order, meaning each one arrives at your table freshly tart and ice cold. If you order it spicy, they’ll throw in some jalapenos as well.
Though it’s been in operation since 1969, this Toluca Lake Mexican restaurant (they also have locations in Burbank and Simi Valley) doesn’t have the prestige of spots like El Coyote or Casa Vega. That said, they do serve an excellent margarita. It’s definitely on the sweeter side, so expect the first few sips to be a sugary slap in the mouth, but after a few more, your taste buds will recalibrate. They’re also enormous, so you only need two before the buzz hits hard. Be sure to get the tortilla soup - it’s one of our favorites in town.
El Cholo has locations all over LA, but the only one you need to concern yourself with is the original in Koreatown. Established in 1923, this sprawling restaurant on Western Ave. feels like a city, except instead of traffic and skyrocketing rent, there are giant enchilada combo platters and incredibly strong margaritas. They’ve been serving the classic El Cholo margarita since 1967 and it’s smoky, tart, and delicious. As far as the food goes, we usually get the Sonora-style enchiladas or fajitas.
We’ve been pretty hard on this West Hollywood vegan restaurant over the years, and for good reason - the food is objectively bland and the flower crown-adorned crowd kills a part of our soul every time we go. That said, one element we will always give this place credit for are the excellent cocktails. In particular, its margaritas. You can choose between regular, picante, or mezcal, but we usually do the Oaxacan Sour for a bit more smokiness.