Hecho en Dumbo's Margarita de Jamaica ($12)
Too often, margaritas are too sweet, too tart, or too bad-boozy. Hecho en Dumbo's hibiscus margarita avoids all these blunders. The core of this drink is Herradura Blanco (good stuff) shaken with a vibrant red housemade hibiscus infusion. The tartness is gentle, lingering, and refreshing, the flavor is rich, fruity, and smooth, and it's all set off by the salted rim. We had trouble turning down another round.
354 Bowery, New York, NY 10012 (b/n Great Jones and 4th Streets; map) 212-937-4245
'Gustavo's El Dorado' at Craftbar ($13)
Tequila, Cointreau, grapefruit, lime; all expected. But what's that at the end? After the grapefruit fades you're left with one last elusive herbal note: chartreuse. It's barely there, but it's awesome.
Mercado at Mercadito ($10.50)
This delicious margarita is all about the ripe fresh pineapple, lime, and chile pequin, shaken until frothy. (The tequila's cheap, but you probably won't notice.) Fish out the tequila-infused pineapple strands with your straw; they're the best part.
179 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009 (b/n 11th and 12th Streets; map) 212-529-6490
Quarter Bar's 'Rosarita' ($9)
Somewhere between a margarita and a pisco sour, the 'Rosarita' at this South Slope cocktail bar makes use of rosemary-infused simple syrup, tequila, and lime, all shaken with egg white to get that light, frothy layer on top. The rosemary comes through in the plant's grassy sweetness, not that bitter herbal flavor it can impart; though the tequila doesn't disappear, it's the rosemary's fresh bite that really stars here.
Ofrenda's Jalapeño Margarita ($12)
Plenty of jalapeño margaritas are spicy and sweet in alternate—starting out syrupy, ending up scorching—but Ofrenda's starts out spicy and builds to a slow, tingly finish. The Tanteo Jalapeño tequila is tamed with Cointreau and agave, shaken with lime, and then, as shown here, rimmed with a mix of brown and white sugars and pasilla chile. If the heat's too much, take a little lick of the side of the glass; the sugar calms your mouth down without taking you out of chile-land.
Senorita at Mayahuel ($13)
This grownup spin on a margarita starts with slightly smoky Siembra Azul reposado tequila shaken with Orangerie, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, and grapefruit bitters for complexity. There's no edge to this drink, it's smooth, deep, and rich. This strained drink is a contemplative nectar that might convert anyone who thinks they don't love tequila.
304 East 6th Street, New York, NY 10003 (b/n 1st and 2nd Avenues; map) 212-2253-5888
Jalapeno Margarita at Apartment 138 ($9)
Apartment 138's jalapeno-infused tequila is not melt-your-mouth-off spicy, but it definitely has a kick. Head bartender Alfredo Di Scipio infuses it himself, so the margarita availability all depends on whether he has any left. If he does, you'll immediately smell the pepper skins when going in for a sip. The jalapeno lingers, but doesn't burn. It's kind of like chewing on one, minus all the torturous seeds. The tall, iced drink is mixed with triple sec and lime juice. It's crisp, refreshing, and once they open up the backyard tables again during sunnier times, should really be enjoyed out there.
Barrio Chino's Habanero Grapefruit Margarita ($11)
The waitress may try to convince you can't handle the heat, but push on: this spicy cocktail just has a smooth, even burn. The heat comes from habanero-infused Hornitos reposado, and the grapefruit adds fresh acidity and a delicate floral note. The flavors mingle and balance surprisingly well.
253 Broome Street, New York, NY 10002 (b/n Orchard and Ludlow; map) 212-228-6710
Toloache's Platino & Scorpion ($13)
The mezcal in this cocktail (Platino Blanco, Scorpion Mezcal Blanco, grapefruit, and lime) is just an accent, but it lends a smoky accent that really makes the margarita; while sweetness and citrus balance the whole thing out, it's the interplay of spirits that make this drink fun.
Honorable Mention for Presentation
The Piña Loca at El Camion in the East Village is a standard sweet frozen margarita, but it's blended with pineapple and coconut and served in a hollowed out pineapple. Sip one (or share, malt-shop style) and it's hard not to feel like you're on vacation.
194 Ave A New York, NY 10009 (b/n 12th and 13th Streets; map) 212-533-5436