Santa Fe, New Mexico’s capital city, is renowned for its creative arts and Pueblo-style architecture. Tucked up in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, it enjoys a vibrant Native American culture, more than 300 days of sunshine every year, and a glorious culinary scene.
Legend has it Santa Fe was also the first place in the entire world to import tequila from Mexico in the seventeenth century. With such an important connection to the agave plant, it’s no surprise that Santa Fe is considered by many to be the margarita capital of the world!
To help thirsty travelers fully explore all the enticing margarita options the city has to offer, the city’s tourism board introduced the Santa Fe Margarita Trail in May of 2016. Available online and as an app for Apple or Android, this incredibly helpful tool organizes the nearly 50 restaurants and bars who offer signature versions of the famous cocktail. From classic versions to more interesting takes, there’s a sip for every taste.
Here are five amazing margaritas you should try on the Santa Fe Margarita Trail.
The Strawberry-Jalapeño Margarita at Luminaria Restaurant & Patio
Bright pink and captivating in the glass, this margarita is as beautiful to behold as it is delicious to drink. Tequila blanco is blended with a puree of jalapeño and strawberries, then shaken with fresh pomegranate and lime juices. Served over ice and garnished with a strawberry and jalapeño slices, the result is a drink that is part spicy, part sweet, and entirely refreshing.
Luminaria Restaurant & Patio, 211 Old Santa Fe Trail, 505-984-7915, www.hotelloretto.com
The Smoking Bull at El Farol
This gorgeous cocktail is an adventure for the senses. Smoky, spicy, and loaded with flavor, the Smoking Bull is a must-try on the trail. Made with mezcal instead of tequila, the barkeeps at El Farol mix in a housemade agave syrup infused with cilantro and piquillo pepper. It tints the drink a bright, captivating green that is simply beautiful. The rim is dusted with Chimayo red chili salt, only adding to the visual and flavorful enjoyment.
The oldest bar and restaurant in Santa Fe, El Farol itself is quite the locale. An extensive tapas menu keeps you snacking while you sip, and the nightly music keeps it lively. One night it might be Flamenco dancers, the next it could be a Latin jam band. Like the Smoking Bull margarita, El Farol is never, ever boring.
El Farol, 80 Canyon Road, 505-983-9912, www.elfarolsantafe.com
The Cucumber Blossom at Thunderbird Restaurant
Located on the second floor, Thunderbird Bar & Grill is the only restaurant in town with a year-round rooftop deck overlooking Santa Fe’s central Plaza.
Thunderbird Bar & Grill offers a full Southwestern menu as well as more than 100 selections in one of the city’s most comprehensive tequila lists. With all those tequilas comes opportunities to try all sorts of margaritas. A local favorite is the Cucumber Blossom. Reposado tequila is mixed with muddled cucumber, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh lime juice, and agave nectar. Subtly sweet and fragrant, this take on a margarita strikes just the right balance of flavors and is perfect when you’re looking for just the thing to start off your evening.
If you’re feeling a bit peckish, their margarita shrimp appetizer is a perfect accompaniment. Gulf shrimp are sauteed in tequila butter sauce with tomatoes, jalapeños, cilantro, and fresh lime juice. Served over house-made Fry Bread, it’s a great bite to go with your cocktail.
Thunderbird Restaurant, 50 Lincoln Avenue, 505-490-6550, www.thunderbirdsantafe.com
Smoked Sage Margarita at Secreto Lounge
Hotel St. Francis is an historic boutique hotel located right next to the town’s central plaza. Handcrafted furniture made by local artists decorates public spaces. The decor and appointments pay homage to Santa Fe’s early Franciscan missionary history. This place oozes class and charm.
For those finding themselves thirsty and looking for a glass or two of bubbly, there’s the Gruet Santa Fe tasting room. If tequila is on the menu, head to the Secreto Lounge instead. A premier “garden-to-glass” cocktail program is renowned for its creativity and quality. Secreto Lounge is also home to Santa Fe’s top-rated cocktail blogger and mixologist, Chris Milligan.
What can you expect from such an erudite barkeep? A subtle, yet impactful, twist on a classic recipe. Chris and his team elevate the traditional margarita mix of tequila, agave, and lime juice with the addition of smoked sage. The herbaceous aromas blend with smoky undertones to give this margarita a sophisticated, complex character. Take time to fully appreciate the layers of aromas and flavors. No guzzling here – this is definitely a sipper.
Secreto Lounge, 210 Don Gaspar Avenue, 505-983-5700, www.hotelstfrancis.com
The Spiced Pear at Agave Lounge
Agave Lounge is located on the ground floor of the elegant El Dorado Hotel & Spa. Consistently voted the best happy hour in Santa Fe, it’s sleek, modern, and loaded with great food and drink options for dining and casual snacking alike.
Their drink menu is full of great craft cocktail options and tequila flights that look quite enticing. If you’re here for margaritas, however, they have plenty of amazing choices. The ‘Fire & Smoke’ gets its name from the mezcal and red chile salt rim. Their “La Piña” is sweet and rich, blending vanilla bean and pineapple-infused rum and a cinnamon-sugar rim with tequila, agave, and lime. For a truly sublime experience, order the Spiced Pear margarita. Blanco tequila blends perfectly with pear liqueur, ginger syrup, and fresh lime juice. It’s a remarkable balance of clean, crisp tequila lines and soft, fruity curves. Delicious.
If you’re feeling a bit peckish while sipping away, Agave’s ‘Lounge Bites’ list has you covered. Small plates start at four bucks during happy hour, and the delicious options include spicy patatas bravas, bright and tangy shrimp ceviche, and an amazing guacamole flight featuring stuff like bacon, pomegranate seeds, and pickled vegetables.
Agave Lounge, 309 West San Francisco Street, 505-988-4455, www.eldoradohotel.com
Adam Centamore is a writer and professional wine & cheese educator in the Boston area. His book, Tasting Wine & Cheese – An Insider’s Guide to Mastering the Principles of Pairing, was a finalist for the IACP Cookbook of the Year award. Adam conducts tasting events and seminars around the country and has written for Saveur Magazine, Culture Cheese Magazine, the Boston Globe, and other publications. When not working, he enjoys traveling to discover new ways to enjoy cuisine and culture. Adam loves to eat, drink & learn!