Searching for the best margarita in Nashville involves risks. After an extensive taste test, you risk a mighty hangover, weight-gain from all the empty calories in those syrupy-sweet drinks, as well as brawls or other related bad behaviordepending on your usual reaction to a lot of tequila. But when consumed sparingly, a margarita’s combination of sweetness, sourness and saltiness cannot be beat. A good margarita is not only refreshing and numbing, but it reminds you of being beachside, under a warm sun, even in a landlocked state like Tennessee.
Legend has it that the margarita was invented in the mid-1930s to late ’40s. Exactly who owns the distinction of creating the margarita is a topic for debate. Its origins range from Acapulco to Los Angeles to small-town Texas. With its popularity, the margarita has constantly been reinvented, although not necessarily for the better.
The margaritas served in many restaurants are often a distant cousin to the original, and consist of artificial ingredients blended with an excess of ice and low quality tequila. In Bob Emmons’ comprehensive guide, The Book of Tequila, he writes that the best traditional margaritas use only the freshest ingredients, including 100 percent agave tequila, fresh squeezed lime or lemon juice and a good orange liqueur, like Cointreau or Grand Marnier. The mixture is then shaken with ice (not blended) and strained into a glass with a salted rim, to combine with the tartness of the citrus and sweet liqueur. In our search for Nashville’s best margarita, we encountered all kinds of variations, from traditional to fruit-flavored to artificial. In most cases, sticking to tradition paid off.
In the short time since it opened, Rosepepper Cantina has become a mainstay of the dining scene in East Nashville, and their efforts at providing a great margarita shouldn’t go unrecognized. With a selection of over 30 premium (100 percent agave) tequilas, festive glasses adorned with blue salt, and several kinds of margaritas to choose from, Rosepepper won over our Margarita-swilling crew. Our favorite concoction, the Top-Shelfa Cadillac-style margarita served on the rocks with a shot of Grand Marnier floated on topsells for $6.25. The cantina also offers a Casa margaritathe Top-Shelf minus the Grand Marnierfor $5.25, plus refreshing melon, mango, strawberry and raspberry margaritas for $5.75. Unlike other fruity margaritas that we encountered, Rosepepper’s weren’t watered-down, but full of flavor and blended to a wonderful consistency. Rosepepper offers happy hour margaritas for $4 from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Easy’s in the Village also stood out in a sea of average sweet and sour margarita mixes. They offer four types: their house margarita ($5.50), the “Tahitirita” ($6.50), the “Limarita” ($6.50) and their specialty, the “Easyrita” ($7.50). We especially enjoyed the strong hints of orange found in both the regular margarita and the “Easyrita,” which also includes a shot of Grand Marnier.
Rio Bravo offers a wide selection of fruit margaritas and others with names like the “Lava Lamp” and the “Prickly Pear.” We liked their frozen blackberry margarita best. La Hacienda Taqueria offers average, but strong and affordable, margaritas with some of Nashville’s best Mexican food. Las Palmas margaritas are average at best, as are La Paz’s, but both restaurants have great patios, and ending the workweek with a fishbowl-size margarita is always lovely.
Rosepepper Cantina1907 Eastland Ave. 227-4777. 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 4-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 4-10:30 p.m. Fri.; 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Sat.; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Easy’s1910 Belcourt Ave. 292-7575. 11 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Mon.-Fri.; 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Rio Bravo3015 West End Ave. 329-1745. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun.-Thurs.; 11 a.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat.
La Hacienda Taqueria2615 Nolensville Road. 256-6142. 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Las Palmas1905 Hayes St. 322-9588. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.; noon-10:30 p.m. Sat.; noon-10 p.m. Sun.
La Paz3808 Kleghorn Ave. 383-5200. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.