Food & Drink

We Drank Margaritas Across San Diego to Find the City's Best

Published On 08/22/2016 Published On 08/22/2016
Margaritas in San Diego
La Puerta | Chad Deal/Thrillist

Bark At the Moon

La Puerta

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There’s little arguing that 2016 is the Year of the Spicy Cocktail(TM), and fiery margaritas are the stars of the party breakdancing on the coffee table. La Puerta makes the spicyrita its own with a shot of oak barrel-aged Dos Lunas with muddled serrano chilies, fresh lime, and agave nectar. The serranos pack about triple the heat of the more commonly used jalapeño, while the agave syrup cuts acidity, making for a balanced but boisterous swill. If heartburn isn’t your jam, frozen classic margs go feliz Tuesday through Sunday from 10pm to close for a smooth $5 a pop.

Chad Deal/Thrillist

Mezcal margarita

Cantina Mayahuel

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North Park

Cantina Mayahuel offers over 300 Mexican spirits and even has its own brand, Don Lorenzo Reposado Reserva. While we’re of the opinion that a good liquor is best served straight-up, it’s hard to pass on the epic happy hour from noon to 6pm, Tuesday through Friday, when margaritas and palomas (Squirt instead of triple sec), made with your choice of tequila or mezcal, are five bucks each.

Chad Deal/Thrillist


Galaxy Taco

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La Jolla

Let’s continue with a wild one. The Sandia -- which is Spanish for "watermelon" -- trades out tequila for a shot of sotol, which is distilled from a spiky desert shrub that grows in northern Mexico. The sotol tastes more or less like dirt, but it’s earthiness is brought to life by a splash of spicy Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, fresh lemon, and, you guessed it, juiced watermelon in a Tajin-rimmed glass. Follow it up with a Tiki Sombrero #2 (a tricked-out Mexican Mai Tai) or a Tijuana Moods, a bebop of liquors alluding to a Manhattan, which bar manager Mark Broadfoot created in homage to jazz bassist and Tijuana regular Charles Mingus.

Chad Deal/Thrillist

Satanico Pandemonium

The Patio on Goldfinch

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Mission Hills

Despite its diabolical moniker, the Satanico Pandemonium is one of the more forgiving spicy margaritas around. Credit that to silver tequila infused with cucumber to temper the jalapeño, plenty of fresh lime, and a garnish of mint. If you prefer smoke over fire, go for a Oaxacan Old Fashioned with blanco tequila, mezcal, chocolate bitters, and orange. Both go for six bucks during happy hour from 3-6pm and 10 to midnight daily. Chase ‘em with a few Chicago-style deviled eggs, $5 happy.

Hunter Thompson

The Lion's Share

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Marina District

Buy the ticket, take the ride with this homage to the Good Doctor of gonzo journalism. Mezcal and pineapple-infused rum set the foundation for agave, raspberry, lime, and barrel-aged bitters. The result is smoky and tropical, with a lingering oak that soaks into the candied pineapple garnish. Calling this a marg would be playing fast and loose with a purist's definition, so check out the No Esposa with Corralejo Blanco, lemon, and habanero strawberry shrub. The shrub gives an almost apple-cider-vinegar zing to the smooth agave spirit, while a basil leaf drifts lazily on top.

Chad Deal/Thrillist

Roasted jalapeño blackberry

Barrio Star

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Bankers Hill

Here we have another take on the spicy marg. This time, the Giro tequila is infused with roasted peppers and blackberry, which give this drink its vibrant hue, before being shaken with fresh lime and agave. $8 from 3-6pm daily.

Chad Deal/Thrillist

Spicy Blood Orange

The Blind Burro

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Yet another spicy marg, but this one has blood orange. The Hornitos silver base, topped with the strong, bitter citrus juice packs a strong punch, making for a pretty good sipper that you wouldn't be completely disappointed in ordering. 

Javier Wallbanger

Bracero Cocina de Raiz

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Little Italy

Check out the most recent offerings from Tijuana chef Javier Plascencia during the generous happy hour running from 11:30am to 6pm on weekdays, when his namesake cocktail goes for $8. The Javier Wallbanger dresses up blanco tequila with sweet, herbal Galliano liqueur, vanilla, lemon, orange, and allspice dram. It comes out nuanced and delicate, with a lingering hint of Christmas.

Chad Deal/Thrillist

Mercado margarita

Puesto at The Headquarters

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Seaport Village

The Mercado is true to the original margarita recipe, but pulls from higher quality ingredients: Casa Noble Crystal organic tequila, Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao (the Daddy Warbucks of triple sec), local organic citrus, and agave. This drink comes with house chips and salsa to snack on, but if you’re there between 9pm and midnight on a Saturday, you’ll get a free taco when you order a Puesto Perfect Margarita.

Tequila mule

El Agave Tequileria

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Old Town

Touting what is no doubt the most encyclopedic collection of agave spirits in town, this Old Town hooch museum carries nearly 3,000 selections, though only around 1,000 are available to buy. The Tequila Mule reinvents a West Coast classic with reposado, passion fruit juice, ginger beer, fresh lime, and agave nectar served in a copper cup.

Chad Deal/Thrillist

Witchfinder General


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South Park

This one is probably our favorite on this list. Black Sabbath's "The Wizard" plays over the stereo at this black metal-themed vegan eatery while bar manager Dave pours a marg spin-off that is sweet and creamy without going full white girl. Red drops of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) drip like blood through crushed ice, reposado tequila, herbal génépy, and fresh lime. The oaky reposado is carried by a pleasant velvety texture, while the zing of lime underpins it all without usurping the throne. Try or die.

Trust Cocktail #2


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A server at The Patio recommended the Trust Cocktail #2, and it’s pretty evident why they did. Much like The Patio’s Satanico Pandemonium, the Trust #2 adds cooling cucumber to jalapeño-infused tequila, then takes it a step further with grapefruit, agave, and firewater bitters made with habanero peppers. So, so good.

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1. La Puerta 560 4th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101 (Gaslamp Quarter)

Street food-style tacos might be the meal du jour in San Diego, but this sleek place on Fourth Avenue also delivers heartier family recipes in quesadillas, sopas, and specialty burritos, like "The California" made with Arranchera Steak, French fries, and grilled onion. La Puerta offers more than 100 tequilas, plus mezcals, raicillas, sotols, and bacanoras. Just ask the bar staff for guidance -- they'll be happy to school you.

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2. Cantina Mayahuel 2934 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116 (North Park)

If you're curious about agave, Cantina Mayahuel has you covered. The staff here will make you a margarita if that's what you really want, but these guys are purists who drink their tequila straight. Behind the bar, there’s an ever-changing collection of over 200 tequilas and 100 mezcals, including the bar's very own brand, Don Lorenzo Reposado Reserva.

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3. Galaxy Taco 2259 Avenida de La Playa, La Jolla, CA 92037

Galaxy Taco delivers on its name's magical promise in an airy space brought to life by an extravagant mural of purple, orange, and yellow corn. The painted wall is a nod to the restaurant's Masienda corn tortillas, which are made daily out of house-ground masa. Galaxy serves the tortillas with most dishes, from tacos filled with fried fish or grilled steak to entrées like chicken enchiladas and vegetable tamales. Given the group-friendly size of the space, a portion of the menu is dedicated to shared plates like grilled blue corn quesadillas and octopus tostadas.

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4. The Patio on Goldfinch 4020 Goldfinch St, San Diego, CA 92103

Equal parts neighborhood space and destination restaurant, this welcoming venue serves up modern American cuisine in a casual environment. And to add to your breezy patio experience, you can choose from more than 80 tequilas and another 35 Mexican spirits, including mezcal, raicilla, bacanora, and sotol. You can forget sucking that lime dry after a shot of tequila, because the best chaser is sangrita, and the Patio's got at least 5 options.

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5. The Lion's Share 629 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101 (Gaslamp Quarter)

Don't let the taxidermy, mismatched chandeliers, and surrealist paintings distract you from the food and drink at The Lion's Share (easier said than done, we know). This quirky, hunter's den of a restaurant satisfies your carnivorous side with a game-heavy menu of wild boar bolognese, chicken fried quail, elk loin steak, and bison tartare. You don't have to be a totally adventurous eater though to take part in the fun: the menu includes tamer plates like an aged white Cheddar-topped burger, hand-cut truffle fries, and roast chicken. Both the expected and unexpected offerings pair well with whiskey cocktails and if you can handle it, absinthe.

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6. Barrio Star 2706 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92103

Bright jewel tone walls and Dia de los Muertos-style decor make dining here a casual event, as does the reasonably priced menu of delicious eats. The tortas (carnitas, carne asada, chicken, or veggie) are a can’t-miss, and come with a side of chips, but other items like shoestring plantains and chorizo tacos, also make apt complements for their margaritas, beer, and curated tequila selection.

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7. The Blind Burro 639 J St, San Diego, CA 92101 (Gaslamp Quarter)

The crew at The Blind Burro treats diners to South-of-the-Border street food, including a grilled flour tortilla topped with cheese, tomatoes, and guac (it's like a Mexican pizza!). The space accommodates plenty of red-upholstered chairs and tables, and potted succulents that reference this restaurant's extensive tequila selection.

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8. Bracero Cocina de Raiz 1490 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101 (Little Italy)

Despite its Little Italy locale, Bracero Cocina de Raiz specializes in modern Mexican cuisine. The two-story restaurant features an open kitchen, a crudo bar bursting with Baja seafood, and a menu composed of hot and cold small plates, tacos, and meaty entrees. The cocktail program pays homage to Mexican drink with a well-rounded selection of tequila and mezcal, plus a variety of bacanoras, raicillas, and sotols.

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9. Puesto 789 W Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

The vibrantly decorated Puesto pays homage to all kinds of Mexican street food, with a heavy emphasis on tacos. You'll find a mix of familiar fillings (chicken al pastor and filet mignon) alongside refreshing combinations like lobster with black beans and crispy onions, and zucchini with sweet corn and cactus. The house-made corn tortillas here prove to be so much more than a vessel for the meat and cheese fillings, and you'll find yourself savoring their earthy taste -- or spreading them with guacamole when the chips run low. Speaking of guac, you can stick with cilantro and onion classic or have yours loaded with Brussels sprouts and crispy bacon.

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10. El Agave Tequileria 2304 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110 (Old Town)

Walking into El Agave, you get the feeling that there might be more tequila under this roof then there is in all of Mexico. The chic Old Town outpost claims to have the largest selection of tequila in the United States, most of which are available for tasting in their encyclopedic "Tequila Museum." Unsurprisingly, the spirit is the star of the mixology-based cocktail list, shining in standout libations like "Tequila Mule" (reposado, fresh passionfruit and lime juice, ginger beer, agave nectar, presented in a traditional copper mug). Food offerings take an upscale approach to tapas, ranging from homemade shrimp and crab empanadas, chorizo, and cocoa nib mole.

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11. Kindred 1503 30th St, San Diego, CA (South Park)

Plant-based comfort fare and tasty craft cocktails are served amid gothic Victorian decor at this South Park brick-and-mortar from chef Kory Stetina, who previously organized the pop-up dinner series Love.Like.Beer. Generous portions and affordable prices make Kindred a worthy gamble, even if you're not entirely convinced of the vegan lifestyle. Seared cauliflower steak, Memphis BBQ jackfruit sandwich, and green garbanzo chili all prove worthy alternatives to meat entrées, while brunch items like smoked carrot (in lieu of smoked salmon) and banana bread French toast topped with whipped coconut cream and dark chocolate are reminders that dairy and eggs aren't a requisite for your weekend mornings.

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12. TRUST Restaurant 3752 Park Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92103 (Hillcrest)

This Hillcrest restaurant serves market-driven continental cuisine in an airy, mid-century inspired space. There's a distinctly New American feel to the menu, evident in shareable small plates like rich chicken liver toast with house mostarda and grilled levain drizzled with olive oil; entrée options highlight the spot's wood-fired grill, especially the standout prime Flatiron steak, juicy and decadent with roasted potatoes. Mixology-forward cocktails reign at the quartz-topped bar (pro tip: try the TRUST cocktail #2, which marries jalapeño-infused tequila, fresh grapefruit and cucumber juice, agave, and a dash of firewater bitters), where communal seating proves a pleasant alternative for those unable to make last minute reservations during peak dinner and brunch times.



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