The most popular cocktail in the state, the frozen margarita should be counted among the icons of Texas patriotism, alongside the Lone Star flag and the bluebonnet. Ubiquity, however, does not equate with quality, and therein lies a conundrum. The slushy drink is everywhere, and yet it seems to have lost its way.
In its classic formulation, the margarita is an almost impossibly simple cocktail, consisting of tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice. But the version coming out of too many frozen-drink machines uses artificial mixes made from citric acid, high-fructose corn syrup, and FD&C yellow no. 5—meaning that no actual limes are harmed in the making of the drink. Add in low-quality “gold” tequila and you have a recipe for disaster.
Given this sad state of affairs, it may come as a surprise to find a frozen margarita so prominently featured at Houston’s Pastry War, a tequila and mezcal bar operated by the folks behind Anvil, one of the premier cocktail destinations in the country. The Pastry War specializes in regional drinks from Mexico, and its selection of agave spirits is impeccable. You will find no industrialized tequilas on its shelves.
The key to the Pastry War’s frozen margarita is juice from fresh-squeezed limes, both the common Persian variety and the brighter key lime. The tequila is Tapatio, made by Carlos Camarena at his family’s distillery, La Alteña, and it’s one of the finest traditional tequilas available. Agave nectar adds sweetness, and the water used to dilute the mixture (so it will freeze) is infused with orange zest.
“It is a culturally significant cocktail to this region,” says Pastry War co-owner Alba Huerta. “The weather in Houston calls for a drink like this. It’s something we’re very proud of.” And with good reason: this is a supremely artisanal expression of a cocktail that lost its art long ago.