Our Favorite Homemade Variations on 6 Classic Tequila Cocktails (Plus, What to Eat with Them)

Our favorite thing about tequila? Its versatility. We’ve substituted it for traditional liquors in Moscow Mules, Bloody Marys, Old Fashioneds and beyond. But lately we’ve been crushing on classic tequila cocktails that can be totally reinvented just by getting creative with the ingredients—ones you probably already have in your kitchen. So, we’ve rounded up six essential tequila drinks that anyone can conquer at home, along with ways to mix them up and food pairings your guests will go loco for. We’ll be using Don Julio Blanco Tequila, which is made from 100 percent blue agave and has crisp, citrusy flavor notes that lend themselves beautifully to these cocktails, and Don Julio Reposado Tequila, which is barrel-aged for a smooth, rich finish.

don julio essential tequila cocktails margaritas
Don Julio

1. Margarita

1.5 oz Tequila + .5 oz agave nectar + .75 oz fresh lime juice

It’s the most famous tequila cocktail for a reason. A solid rule to stick to is two parts tequila, one agave nectar and one or two parts acid. As for the acid, you really can’t go wrong with fresh lime juice, but we won’t blame you for leaning on store-bought sour mix if that’s what you have in your bar cart. P.S., using triple sec is always a good classic alternative.

Mix it up:

  • Make it a Tommy's margarita (in other words, a three-ingredient margarita with fresh lime juice and a heavy dose of agave nectar). It's actually the preferred way to make a margarita with Don Julio because it allows the flavor of the tequila to really shine.
  • Add frozen fruit or fruit purée, especially if you like your margaritas blended. A cup of fruit or a few ounces of purée are all you need to transform the OG. Try mango, strawberry, pineapple or TBH, whatever fruit you have hiding in your fridge or freezer.
  • Experiment with the salt or sugar rim by adding bold spices and seasonings. Before you roll the margarita glass in plain old salt, consider digging through your spice rack first. Chili powder, pink peppercorns or even cocoa powder mixed in salt or sugar will offer a bold burst of flavor in every sip.

Serve with: Flank Steak Tacos with Cucumber Salsa

don julio essential tequila cocktails paloma
Don Julio

2. Paloma

1.5 oz Tequila + 1 oz grapefruit + .5 oz lime juice + soda water

This pretty-in-pink beauty has been stealing hearts left and right recently. We’ll chalk that up to the acidic, slightly bitter grapefruit being just the match for crisp, earthy tequila. Some recipes recommend using both grapefruit and lime juices. If you go that route, fresh-squeezed is always best. You can top the drink off with a splash of club soda or kill two birds with one stone by using grapefruit soda. Make a paloma by mixing tequila and a grapefruit element of your choice in equal parts, unless you plan to add lime juice. If so, use a little less grapefruit. Try it with Reposado tequila—the slightly aged notes balance out the tart fruit flavors perfectly.

Mix it up:

  • Try different mixers based on your taste. Add a splash of orange juice or mango nectar to up the sweetness and fruity flavor or hit it with prosecco for a bitter twist on the mimosa. You can also pair grapefruit juice with other flavors of seltzer, like lime or raspberry.
  • Make it spicy, because tart, bitter grapefruit can handle the heat. Muddle a serrano pepper in the lime juice before building your drink or coat the rim in a mix of salt and chili powder.

Serve with: 20-Minute Shrimp Scampi Zoodles

don julio essential tequila cocktails tequila soda
Don Julio

3. Tequila Soda

1.5 oz Tequila + sparkling water + lime

Yup, it’s as simple as it sounds. If you’re a vodka soda diehard, trade your usual spirit for tequila. You may find that it gives your go-to drink a whole new flavor profile, as vodka is commonly known for being the most maskable and plain of the common liquors. No matter how you decide to riff on the basic recipe, remember a spritz of lime is always a good idea.

Mix it up:

  • Get creative with the seltzer or sparkling water you choose. Any flavor will do; it really comes down to what you like. Pineapple, watermelon, cranberry-lime, grapefruit, lemon and pomegranate are all bound to impress. Better yet, give the drink a modest dose of limeade, pink lemonade or orange juice, a la vodka soda with a splash of cran.
  • Garnish your drink like you’re making it for someone else. Just because you don’t have company doesn’t mean a few mint leaves or lime wheels won’t spark joy at solo happy hour. Our favorite hack? Using frozen fruit for ice cubes. A few berries, lime wedges, peach slices or mango chunks will do the trick. If you want to be as extra about it as possible, blend some watermelon, fill an ice cube tray with the purée and freeze for future deliciousness. Your drink will change in color and taste as they melt. Ta-da.

Serve with: Vegan Avocado Caesar Salad

don julio essential tequila cocktails sangrita
Don Julio

4. Sangrita

1.5 oz tequila + fruit and tomato juice + seasoning + lime

Nowadays, “sangrita” often refers to a hybrid drink that’s half sangria and half margarita. But the original sangrita, a palate cleanser sipped alongside a shot of blanco tequila, dates back to the 1920s. Literally translating to “little blood” in Spanish, sangrita complements the peppery, citrusy taste of straight tequila while also cutting its intensity with acidic citrus juices. The O.G. approach hails from Guadalajara, the largest city in Jalisco, Mexico. Locals used the leftover juices (mostly orange and lime) from a popular fruit salad as the base. Its bright red hue is thanks to pomegranate, chili powder and spices. As the drink grew in popularity, many outside Mexico adapted the recipe with tomato juice. Just juice and strain 3 cups of tomatoes, then blend it with 1 tablespoon chopped red onion, 1.5 teaspoons garlic powder, 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1 ounce lime juice. We like to rim the shot glass with salt, black pepper and garlic powder for flair. And remember, the right way to drink it is to alternately sip the tequila and sangrita, not chase one with the other.

Mix it up:

  • Shake it old school with orange juice instead of tomato. Your affinity for Bloody Marys (or should we say Bloody Marias) isn’t going anywhere. Try equal parts OJ and lime juice, a few sprinkles of chili powder (hot sauce works, too) and a dash of grenadine. Fresh-squeezed juice makes all the difference.
  • Pair it with reposado tequila instead of silver. Since you’re meant to nurse the tequila shot anyway, treating yourself to the mellow, oaky flavor notes of reposado is always a good idea. You'll still taste its peppery backbone that meshes with sangrita so well, only along with strong hints of vanilla or even caramel.
  • Make it a Mexican Flag, otherwise known as a Bandera, by adding a shot of lime. Just line up three shot glasses—the first with fresh-squeezed lime juice, the second with silver tequila, the third with sangrita—to symbolize the green, white and red stripes on the Mexican flag.

Serve with: Mexican Street Corn Dip

don julio essential tequila cocktails mexican coffee
Don Julio

5. Mexican Coffee

1.5 oz Tequila + 1 oz cold brew coffee + 2 oz milk

You’ve heard of whiskey-spiked Irish coffee and rum-rich Jamaican coffee. But tequila? Yeah, it tastes better with java than you may realize. Tequila’s signature earthiness pairs beautifully with coffee’s deep roasty notes. If you strictly take your coffee black and insist on skipping the sugar, more power to you. But tequila and coffee both pack powerful pungency and bitterness, so a spoonful or two can go a long way. Just an ounce or two of tequila in an iced or hot coffee is enough. Sugar is also fair game, but optional. Treat yourself to a Mexican coffee on a lazy Sunday morning or have it decaf as a nightcap with dessert. Better yet, make it a classic rocks cocktail with tequila and a coffee liqueur.

Mix it up:

  • Use reposado tequila instead of silver. Reposados are aged in oak barrels, a process that softens and mellows their flavor and turns them golden in color. Many have sweet notes and echo the flavors of caramel or vanilla, meaning they’d taste pretty darn good in a cup of joe.
  • Try it frozen by taking it for a whirl in the blender. Freeze the prepared coffee in an ice cube tray so you don’t need to use regular ice that will dilute your drink. Add the tequila to the blender later—its alcohol content will keep it from freezing. You can sweeten it with flavor syrup or sugar but hear us out. Condensed milk will give you Vietnamese iced coffee-inspired sweetness and coffee shop-status texture.

Serve with: Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies

don julio essential tequila cocktails tequila sunrise
Don Julio

6. Tequila Sunrise

1.5 oz Tequila + 4 oz orange juice + .25 oz grenadine + cherry + sea salt

You cook a mean brunch, so we hate to break it to you, but this cocktail will steal the show every damn time. Practically *everyone* is a sucker for this drink’s stunning orange-to-red gradient, and it’s luckily way easier to achieve the sunrise effect than you may think. First, combine tequila and OJ iand pour it into an ice-filled glass. Then, grab a spoon and hold it upside-down so its tip is aligned with the inner rim of the cocktail glass. Carefully pour about a ¼- or ½-ounce of grenadine over the rounded back of the spoon while moving the spoon around the inside of the glass. This allows the grenadine to sink to the bottom evenly without blending with the OJ and turning the whole drink pink. Finally, top it with a maraschino cherry and an orange wedge. Boom, color your guests wowed.

Mix it up:

  • Play with grenadine substitutes that will give your tequila sunrise a similar color effect. Layering ingredients by density is what makes this cocktail work. Grenadine is heavier than tequila and orange juice, so it sinks to the bottom of the glass. Raspberry syrup and pomegranate molasses are thicker than cherry juice, cranberry juice and pomegranate juice, so they’re the closest substitutes, but all these options will taste amazing (even if your drink is pinker than it should be). If you want to keep the drink authentic while also taking it up a notch, make your own grenadine. Seriously. Simply reduce pomegranate juice and sugar in equal parts in a pot on the stove until the sugar dissolves, then let it simmer until thick. Add a dash of orange blossom water before storing if you’re fancy.
  • Squeeze fresh orange juice instead of using store-bought. What you buy at the supermarket is pasteurized, a process that keeps OJ from spoiling before it hits cooler shelves, but also unfortunately strips it of its “real” orange taste. You’ll need about three oranges to get enough juice, so save this upgrade for a special treat-yourself occasion. We promise the extra work will be worth it.

Serve with: Chilaquiles with Poached Eggs and Spicy Honey

taryn pire

Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...