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Drink To This: The World’s Best Margarita Recipe

The World's Best Margarita. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky

We met more than 20 years ago in a bar in Guadalajara. It didn’t matter that Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city, sitting square in the middle of the state of Jalisco. Or even that the city is famous for charreada, rodeos where powerfully costumed cowboys, or charros, display high-velocity horsemanship for a legion of adoring fans. In the West Central highlands, what matters is pride — pride in the long tradition of the charros, the universal symbol of this place. Pride is was what I remember most about Bo-Bo, that and his magnificent margarita.

Bo-Bo (short for Bonifacio) was a bartender in Tlaquepaque, a section of Guadalajara now considered the sweetheart of interior decorators because of their warehouse-sized shops and overstuffed galleries. But in those earlier days, things were not so precious. On one night, I wandered around El Parián, a festive city block ringed with casual cafes designed for good times and late nights. Looking around, it was difficult to choose where to go; every place was enticing. Laughter and candlelight and brightly colored clothing made each space seem more provocative than the last. The locals found it easy, as they warmed up to the place where family members waited tables or perhaps had visited for generations. I just let the spirit of the night guide me, and I walked through the next doorway I saw.

I could not have guessed from its modest entrance all which would appear before me. The otherwise dimly lit space opened up to an open-air patio, with a large gazebo where a full mariachi band played. Later I would hear that some of the best musicians in the country frequented this spot, and over the years I would raise a glass to many of them as trumpets and voices filled the space.


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Mariachi. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky

That night, I must have really looked out of place, a wide-eyed gringa, overstimulated with all the sights and sounds, and Bo-Bo extended a hand and a smile. He took me on a tour of El Parián, pointing out the places with the best tacos and bar snacks. He showed me where I could grab a table under shady porticoes and pull up an equipale, the locally made, rustic leather-and-wood barrel chair, and stay for tequila and music. We paused near the gazebo stage to watch the mariachi wail “Guadalajaaaaara” wearing the same traditional outfit as the charros: skin-tight pants and jackets with heavy silver-studded adornments and huge, elaborately detailed sombreros. Here, Bo-Bo told me, “Weekend afternoons have remained unchanged for generations, and nights are forever young.”

As we wandered back to his bar he proudly proclaimed that he served, “the world’s best margarita, hands down.”

Smiling at my proud guide, I said, “OK, prove it.”

And he did.

World’s Best Margarita

Makes 1 drink

Guadalajara is known for tequila. The actual town of Tequila is about an hour to the west, and it is the place where Mexico distills its finest in countless factories. Tequilana Weber blue variety agave plants (Agave tequilana) run up and down kilometers of hillsides in perfect blue-gray waves of neat rows from the lowlands to the nearby mountains. Ancient volcanoes in the distance provide the background where they push against sapphire skies.

Bo-Bo’s perfect storm of spirits is still the recipe I use today. Here is his original formula with my alternate ruby-red suggestions. But first, a few rules of a great margarita:

1. Use only 100% agave tequila because others are mixtos, cheap blends of 49% something else — mostly cane alcohol and/or sugars. My preference is clear (aka silver, blanco, white) because of its clean agave flavor unaltered by aging.

2. Never use a pre-made, artificially flavored and colored, headache-inducing, neon chartreuse “margarita mix.”

3. No slushy blender drinks. Serve “on the rocks” in an old-fashioned glass or “up” shaken with ice and strained into a martini glass.

4. Serve with or without a salted rim, but without is like a kiss where the lips never touch.


1 lime wedge

A few tablespoons slightly coarse sea or kosher salt on a small plate

Ice cubes

1½ parts 100% clear agave tequila

½ part Cointreau

1 part freshly squeezed Mexican (aka Key) limes

Simple syrup or bartender’s super-fine sugar, if needed


1. Moisten the rim of an old-fashioned glass (or martini glass) with a lime wedge. Dip in the salt to coat the rim.

2. In a small pitcher, mix the tequila, Cointreau and lime juice. Stir and taste; if it’s too sour stir in a little sweetener, but the drink should be sour.

3. Either fill an old-fashioned glass with ice cubes and then pour in the tequila mixture or pour the mixture into a cocktail shaker with crushed ice, shake 10-15 seconds and strain into a martini glass.

Ruby-Red Pomegranate, Cranberry or Jamaica Margarita

Makes 1 drink


Thick slice off lime end

¼ cup slightly coarse sea or kosher salt

Ice cubes

1½ parts 100% clear agave tequila

½ part Cointreau

1 part unsweetened, sour pomegranate juice, cranberry juice or strong-brewed jamaica tea (pronounced ha-MY-ca, dried flowers of the hibiscus family, found in Mexican markets)

Simple syrup or bartender’s super-fine sugar to taste


1. Moisten the rim of an old-fashioned glass (or martini glass) with a lime wedge. Dip in a dish of salt to coat the rim.

2. In a small pitcher mix the tequila, Cointreau and juice. Stir in sweetener to taste, but keep it sour!

3. Either fill an old-fashioned glass with ice cubes and then pour in the tequila mixture, or pour the mixture into a cocktail shaker with crushed ice, shake 10 to 15 seconds and strain into a martini glass.

Like it hot? Quarter a fresh green jalapeño chile, remove the seeds and then slide it into the drink. Like it smoky? Float 1 tablespoon Del Maguey mezcal on top of the finished drink. !Salud!

Simple Syrup


1 cup sugar

1 cup water


Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Store in a sealed glass jar in the refrigerator for up to one month. Makes about 1½ cups.

Top photo: The World’s Best Margarita. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky

Zester Daily contributor Nancy Zaslavsky is an author, cooking teacher and culinary tour leader specializing in the foods of Mexico. She wrote the James Beard Award-nominated "A Cook's Tour of Mexico" and "Meatless Mexican Home Cooking." Motivated by ongoing research into the cultural and culinary history of Mexico, she is the vice president and program chair of the Culinary Historians of Southern California. Based in Los Angeles, she is also a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and International Slow Food Movement.


  • EJ 7·4·13

    great story on finding the real Margarita recipe.

  • Kathy solomon 7·4·13

    Nancy makes the best margaritas I’ve ever had. Now I know how

  • Jeane Gadd 7·4·13

    Terrific article, Nancy!

  • Yum! 7·4·13

    It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…on the 4th of July…the perfect time to make Nancy Z’s Jamaica MARGARITA!!! Got the tea brewing now….can’t wait to try it!!

  • Mark 7·4·13

    The world is a much better place with a mezcal floater!!! Great article and final the recipe!

  • Kevin 7·4·13

    yep, shouldn’t have shared the secret!!!

  • Nelsen 7·5·13

    Interesting story about life and play in Mexico. Glad to have the recipe for an authentic margarita and not the Jimmy Buffet look alike. Thanks.

  • Judy 7·5·13

    Wow, I could use one of those right about now. Great article.

  • Lou liuzzi 7·9·13

    Sounds great, can’t wait to try!

  • Lou Liuzzi 7·9·13


  • SUSAN 7·11·13

    I have made the margarita plus read your tantalizing article, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. What is next Nancy?

  • Patricia 7·23·13

    Made some last night — the essential margarita! Awesome… and potent.

  • Chris 7·28·13

    Never missing a chance to be creative, Nancy also suggested trying it with tamarind…….