Adulting Is Hard. This Twinkie Bourbon Cocktail Is Not.
"Pilsen" and "tequila bar" is a word combo that is going to raise expectations. Well you can keep them raised because Del Toro may just have the best selection of margaritas in the city. There are 19 (!) flavors to choose from, including four rotating seasonal selections, ranging from simple variations that add a splash of coconut cream or pineapple, to more intense mixes including hibiscus syrup and grapefruit juice or chocolate cream and RumChata. Those people who say too many choices make us unhappy are damn liars.
Simple, classic, and moderately priced Mexican dishes have kept Lincoln Park locals frequenting this this casual spot for years, but true fans know the margaritas are the star of the show. Just like the rest of the joint they are no frills, just delicious and strong, delivering the goods in a variety of flavors like mango, banana, and tamarind (although you won’t regret the go-to lime). If that isn’t good enough for you, drinks and pitchers are half-off Tuesday and Thursday.
Wicker Park’s most charming counter spot for Mexican munchies and inventive margaritas is worth a layover for any tequila lover. They have a rotating menu of seasonal specialty margs like blackberry lemon or papaya cayenne that always delight. And while those alone would be enough to recommend it, the house specialty rosemary margarita seals the deal, adding a bit of sweet orange juice and herbal goodness to the classic drink.
The first thing you notice when gearing up for a drink at Cescas is that large is the smallest option, and let us assure you they are not kidding. The massive margs deliver great bang-for-the-buck with enough tequila to knock out a linebacker, so you better bring your A-game. All this would be for nought if they weren’t damn good too, but they are, with the frozen coconut being the best of the bunch. Don’t forget to try and snag a spot on one of Andersonville’s nicest patios while you're there.
Would you expect anything less from Chicago’s reigning three-decade king of Mexican cuisine? The margaritas at this Chicago staple are perfectly balanced between sweet and sour, strong and drinkable. It’s tough to pick just one of their great concoctions to recommend including the ($35!) splurge margarita, but go with the XOCO which is elevated by the sleek and subtle additions of orange liquor and cucumber.
The front windows of Maria’s wood-paneled storefront are filled to the brim with bottles of liquor and beer, a not-so-subtle hint as to where your priorities should lie on a hot summer day in Chicago. They deliver that first impression in spades with expertly tuned classic cocktails of all varieties, but reserved special care for their margarita, which mixes smoky mezcal with spicy simple syrup and the essential tequila and lime to form one of the cities best hybrid margs.
The good people at Masa Azul are doing a great service for our city, taking tequila and mezcal as seriously as most bartenders take a great bourbon. They stock over 90 varieties of tequila alone and sink that knowledge into some of the best agave cocktails around. Of course they have a bunch of great margaritas to choose from, from spicy to clean and citrusy. Start with the Gypsy and its dash of maraschino and move on from there.
If superhero cartoons and sitcom crossovers have taught us anything it’s that few things are more pleasing than when two old favorites join forces. This goes double at más where the refreshing power of margaritas and watermelon in summertime come together. While other places might throw out a too-sweet watermelon marg drowning in artificial flavor all you get here is the crisp goodness of the fresh stuff. Balanced it with the slightly bitter orange of Aperol and you end up with a new favorite for a humid July evening.
It’s easy to get righteous and bemoan the corruption of classic drinks by these pretentious too-fancy-for-their-own-good bartenders, with their weird ingredients and non-sensical combinations. Easy, but wrong. For vindication of our current obsession with not leaving well enough alone head to Takito Kitchen on Division. It features six different variations on the margarita, all more than worthwhile. The cucumber is exactly what you would want and expect from that combination, and the pineapple serrano simply knocks you out with a left hook of tropical flavors.
While we will extoll the virtues of innovative, upscale margarita flavors all day sometimes you just want to sit next to a brick wall with a Mexican mural on it, eat a huge plate of enchiladas, and pound some classic margs. Well this local Lincoln Square spot may not have the street cred of either a true dive or a hot new joint but it has those three things done right. At Garcia’s the drinks are big, cheap, and strong and taste like best margarita you had in 2003 (this is a compliment). Sometimes you do have to go back to basics.
Mas Alla del Sol has quickly become an Edgewater favorite since opening a few years ago and it is not hard to see why. Straddling the line behind trendy higher-end restaurants and more traditional fare, everything on the menu is a testament to the simple philosophy of cooking with high-quality ingredients and soul. Of course we are here to talk about margaritas, but that philosophy flows through them as well, nothing crazy or daring, just really damn good in a variety of great flavors including the fan-favorite blood orange.
An upscale Mexican experience from the people who brought you Cafe Con Leche, De Noche mixes flavors from all over Latin America and let’s you wash them down with margaritas that keep Logan Squarites (Squarians?) coming back over and over. They have a great classic with their own citrus mix as well as variations like blackberry and guava. For something more out the ordinary the the Oaxaquita which adds a chili spice kick and is a favorite of regulars.
Perez is the kind of place that draws people to Pilsen, an unassuming local joint with a long affordable menu of tasty Mexican-American staples. It feels like the kind of place you are supposed to be drinking a margarita, even if you’re downing eggs and chorizo at 10am. There isn’t a huge selection -- lime, strawberry, and mango pretty much round it out -- but they are made with fresh ingredients. Enough of the sweet stuff to make it refreshing without skimping on the tequila, the way a marg was meant to be.
1. Del Toro2133 S Halsted St, Chicago
2. Mayan Palace2703 N Halsted St, Chicago
3. Antique Taco1360 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
4. Cesca's Margarita Bar and Grill5403 N Clark St, Chicago
5. Frontera Grill445 N Clark St, Chicago
6. Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar960 W 31st St, Chicago
7. Masa Azul2901 W Diversey Ave, Chicago
8. más800 W Washington Blvd, Chicago
9. Takito Kitchen2013 W Division St, Chicago
10. Garcia's Mexican Restaurant1758 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago
11. Mas Alla del Sol5848 N Broadway St, Chicago
12. De Noche Mexicana2710 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
13. Perez Restaurant1163 W 18th St, Chicago
Popular wisdom holds "liquor before beer and you're in the clear", but nobody's ever said "liquor before al pastor and you'll want some more"... until now thanks to Del Toro. From the family behind Pilsen staple F&R Liquors, DT's a laid-back adjacent tequila bar & grubbery with a mahogany hue, a U-shaped granite bar, and local abstract paintings, all punctuated by the sounds of Latin jazz and bossa nova, which is also how Brazilians describe their favorite PBS programming.
Mayan Palace serves authentic affordable Mexican cuisine classics like burritos, fajitas, tacos and top-notch margaritas- which can be ordered by the pitcher. This casual spot is great for groups, has outdoor seating, great service, but the real winner here is the margaritas, which comes in tons of flavors like raspberry, peach, and Jamaican flower.
Antique Taco's a brick-n-mortar mash-up of an upscale taqueria and a Cracker Barrel, sporting barnwood tables, mismatched china and, of course, for-sale antiques ranging from glassware to old Jays potato chip tins. The fare includes housemade tortillas with Slagel Farm ribeye and boozy agua fresca.
This chill, neighborhood Andersonville margarita bar serves traditional Mexican fare in a low-key setting. The menu encompasses a wide variety of grilled meat dishes, plus crowd pleasing options like freshly smashed guac, prepared tableside. Frozen mezcal cocktails and daiquiris taste better while lounging on Cescas' spacious stone patio.
Frontera Grill is Rick Bayless' first-established restaurant, and it serves up high-end casual Mexican fare inspired by Rick's years of delicious anthropological research South of the border. The margaritas are delectable, and there's even one you can order (the splurge margarita) that will probably leave your pockets empty but your stomach full. The authentic Mexican flavors are best enjoyed on the sidewalk patio where you can people watch.
Maria's has the soul of a dive bar combined with modern -- dare we say hipster -- design details like chandeliers made out of beer bottles and butcher block tabletops. It has some 400-plus beers (many of which are rare craft brews) to choose from, owed in part to its adjoining liquor shop. The selection is always changing, and the shop receives up to 40 new beers a week and expires just as many. Maria's also has a wine program that features small family vineyards from all over the world and it serves a variety of ginger beer cocktails made with beer brewed specially for the bar.
For a tequila experience you won't forget, head to Masa Azul. This 50-seat spot serves up nearly 90 different types of tequila varieties. It's not just drinks either, Masa Azul offers great tacos, ceviche, and guac! You know what goes great with Cinco de Mayo? Honestly, any of Azul's nearly 100 tequilas. Narrowing down the list would just be foolish.
This restaurant in the West Loop is a modern Mexican food restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Besides food, más serves an absolutely killer watermelon margarita that will make the dead of winter feel like summertime. With a wide array of salsas and small plates, you can come with friends to pick and share. The welcoming vibe is perfect for any scenario, whether you are bringing a date or your family.
A small plate taqueria from a Carnivale vet (no, not Nick Stahl) putting a contemporary twist on Latin fare, Takito Kitchen makes good use of the gutted car wash space that most recently housed Sabor Saveur, with exposed pipes and distressed cedar lining the narrow corridor leading to a skylit back room decked with a graffiti mural touting the resto's name.
Garcia's In Lincoln Square is a mix between a dive and a thriving upscale restaurant with inventive margarita flavors, a brick wall with a massive Mexican mural on it, and deliciously gluttonous plates of enchiladas slathered red or green sauce. The classic margaritas are the most desirable thing on the menu, however, and the variety of chips and salsa the restaurant provides will have you order marg after marg to wash it all down.
This Edgewater eatery from the owners of Los Nopales in Lincoln Square is serving Mexican hotness with traditional dishes likes carne asada and chicken mole and modern, creative takes like ancho baby backs in a pineapple-tequila sauce and calabacitas (aka Chihuahua- and goat cheese-stuffed zucchini doused in tomato sauce and a lime vinaigrette). For a Mexican joint, this place also has a long seafood selection packed with festive flavor you wouldn't normally associate with fish.
This Logan Square joint busts out of the Mexican food mold by preparing everything from scratch and combining its Mexican roots with Latin flavors. Along with its traditional tacos and enchiladas, De Noche's menu boasts big signature entrees like grilled pork chop (with caramelized onion, grilled pineapple, mole mashed potatoes), spinach and goat cheese stuffed airline chicken breast and pozole, a tomatillo broth. Let's not forget the margaritas and tequila cocktail selection, either.
At Perez Restaurant in University Village, you'll never be taken for a loop by inconsistency or poor quality. This place is your typical family-owned Mexican joint, which means everything's authentic, affordable and just plain good. Stop by in the morning for a steak and eggs feast post-night out, a burrito/torta/taco in the afternoon or a heaping bowl of guisado (beef or pork stew) in the evening.