A tour of Margarita's in the Hill Country

Hill Country Margarita Trail

Here are some of the best summertime tequila cocktails

This summer, there are many reasons to celebrate. This time last year, so many Texas restaurants were closed or operating at a reduced capacity. But this summer is entirely different, and for their parts, restaurants are raring to go. And for our parts? We’re thirsty for dining experiences, packed tables of friends, and delightful tornados of tequila, lime, salty and sweet. 

For at least 2,000 years, the juice from agaves and similar plants have been fermented, and sipped; the Aztecs produced a milky drink called pulque, which many consider the predecessor to tequila. Tequila is a product of origin, and is only produced in 5 regions in the Mexican state of Jalisco. True tequila is made from one specific cultivar of agave – the Weber Azul, or Weber blue, which must mature for 7-14 years before the piña (or core) can be harvested, juiced, fermented, and distilled.

Perhaps it’s our relative proximity to the arid agave farms of Jalisco, or maybe it’s just our propensity toward a damn good time, but we Texans love a margarita. Here are 5 top-shelf margaritas worth the pit stop. 

#1 : Pizza Sorellina 

Pizza Sorellina is located in Spicewood, off of Highway 71 at just the moment where Austin seems to trickle to Hill Country. It’s easy to miss, unless you know to look for the hand-painted Pedernales Farmers Market signs, which conveniently lead you straight to the parking lot. The Pizza Sorellina  margarita is as sophisticated as it is simple – letting the fresh lime juice set the tone for a bright and incredibly satiating cocktail featuring just 4 ingredients: reposado tequila, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, and Paula’s Texas Orange Liqueur. Salted rim and perfectly balanced, this margarita is a true refreshment.

If you’re adventure-bound and don’t have time to eat at Pizza Sorellina’s lovely (and kid-friendly) yard, order a pie to go, and you can also get a to-go marg, which comes packaged in what beverage director Chelsea Carter refers to as “an adult Caprisun” baggie.

#2 : Gio’s Italian Restaurant 

It may surprise you that this Italian bistro located on Llano’s town square has a memorable margarita, but they do. This lovely restaurant (worth the visit just for the stuffed cannelloni) serves up a tequila-based “Italian Margarita” that subs fresh lemon and orange juice for lime, and amaretto liquor for the typical triple sec. Instead of chips, diners are greeted with a warm basket of garlicky bread, and though the details may have you wondering if this is technically even a margarita, one sip and you’ll forget you even cared.  This ’rita goes down easy; the acidity of fresh lemon juice and the bitterness of amaretto work to balance the sweet, making Gio’s Italian Margarita unexpectedly complex and drinkable.

Go for the margarita and stay for the surprisingly delightful ambiance which, to further confuse things, truly makes you feel like you’re in a Tuscan trattoria instead of just blocks from the (beautiful) Llano River. 

#3 : Hondo’s 

An informal poll of Fredericksburg locals unanimously pointed to the no-frills and deeply satisfying margarita at Hondo’s; it’s a classic watering hole for a reason. There are several margarita variations to choose from at Hondo’s: one contains tequila that’s been infused with fresh pineapple, another is spiced with jalapeno, and of course there is a classic. The margaritas are made fresh in batches, and displayed for all to see on the historic bartop in big, plastic dispensers. After waiting in a single-file bar line, your marg is served in a flimsy plastic cup, and you can’t help but feel like you’re attending the most well-organized house party that will hopefully be remembered for the many, delicious margarita options. 

Plan to settle into Hondo’s inviting  patio for some live music and maybe a BBQ sandwich if you intend to drink more than one of these margaritas. They’re as strong as they are delicious, the perfect lubricant for a lively (and responsible) Fredericksburg afternoon. 

#4 : Hilltop Café 

There isn’t a better Cajun-Greek fusion restaurant in all of the Texas Hill Country, and if you know anything about the quality of food and music that radiates from the old pump station walls, it should be no surprise to you that the Hilltop margarita is excellent. This is a destination restaurant, and because you’ve already made the trip, you might as well order their top shelf margarita, “The BB” – a name that Willie, son of Hilltop owner and renowned bluesman Johnny Nicholas, casually told me was the nickname given to his late mother by “Antone and Stevie” (Clifford Antone and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to be sure).

The BB is an expertly shaken mix of Don Julio, Cointreau, Hilltop’s house-made sweet and sour mix, topped with a Grand Marnier floater and garnished with whatever edible flowers happen to be blooming in the garden beds outside. For not only the quality of the drink, but also the quality of the environment, this margarita is meant to be sipped and savored, not unlike all the good things in life – fellowship, music, and food. And such is the sentiment when dining at the very special Hilltop Café.

#5 : Los Tres Potrillos

If you’re headed west, there’s a good chance you’ll drive through the tiny pitstop of Harper, and there’s no better reason to take a break than Los Tres Potrillos. There are several ways to tequila at Los Tres Potrillos, but on a hot day, it’s hard to deny their house frozen – served in a perfectly chilled, acrylic goblet, big enough to last your whole meal. 

It checks all the boxes for an exemplary frozen margarita: a silky, swirled balance of sweet and tart, and of ideal Slurpee consistency. A quick eyeball of the dining room, and this margarita’s allure is apparent – even the booths of hard-working ranchers, a crowd you might expect to be the beer type, are teeming with big margs and tiny paper umbrellas. 

If you’re not ready to commit to a frozen experience, there are other options. Order the “Skinny Margarita” for a simpler cocktail of lime juice, tequila, triple sec and simple syrup, or go the other direction and ask for your favorite reposada to be added to their mangonada featuring a Tajin-lined rim and an intoxicating whirl of chamoy.