Where was the frozen margarita invented? Your gut may tell you Mexico, since that’s where the rocks margarita was invented back in 1942. But the frozen margarita actually dates back to 1971, when a Dallas restauranteur, Mariano Martinez, invented the frozen margarita machine and used it to concoct a flawlessly frosty version of the original. Since, restaurants and bars in the Texas city have followed in his footsteps, dreaming up all sorts of icy libations that play a large part in maintaining and growing Dallas’s gastronomic reputation. We spoke to Julian Rodarte, CEO of Trinity Groves Restaurant Group and cofounder of Dallas’s Beto & Son, to learn more about the impact the icy cocktail has had on the city’s drink scene—plus for tips on making one at home.
Where Was the Frozen Margarita Invented? (Hint: The Answer Isn’t Mexico)
The Invention of the Frozen Margarita
Martinez may have perfected the frozen margarita, but it was his father who planted the seed for the cocktail. The young Martinez grew up bussing tables at his dad’s Mexican resto, El Charo, where he’d see him blitz a few frozen margaritas in a blender for his customers, back when liquor couldn’t be sold by the drink in Texas eateries. This changed in 1970, when an amendment made it lawful to sell individual cocktails once approved in local-option elections.
When Dallas voted yes, the younger Martinez opened his own restaurant, Mariano’s Mexican Cuisine. (Today, Mariano still owns and frequents five restaurants across Texas.) The first night was a roaring success—except the bartender was buried in margarita orders and began haphazardly tossing ingredients into the blender just to keep up, resulting in less-than-delicious frozen margaritas. “The blender is obviously easiest and quickest if you’re making small batches but almost impossible to use in a restaurant because of the sheer volume,” explains Rodarte. “For example, at Beto & Son, we will sell over 500 variations of a frozen margarita in a day. I doubt a blender would last us even a week.”
Martinez tried and failed to obtain a Slurpee machine from 7-Eleven, then bought a secondhand soft-serve ice cream machine to solve the problem. After toying with his dad’s recipe to get the ideal consistency and flavor, he finally nailed it. Boozy and impeccably chilled, the drink changed the cocktail world and the Tex-Mex restaurant scene (which Dallas is famous for) forever. “I’m sure it was unfathomable by Martinez at the time, but as a Dallasite, I can confidently speak for all of us when I say Dallas would not be the same place without this innovation,” says Rodarte.
The original machine produced countless cocktails for an entire decade before breaking down. Today, it sits in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where it’s been since 2005.
Dallas’s Frozen Margarita Scene Today
Countless restauranteurs have followed Martinez’s lead since his heyday. You’d be hard pressed to find a Tex-Mex joint in the city that doesn’t have at least one frozen marg machine whirring away behind the bar. As always, with time comes innovation, so dozens of hotspots across the city have put their salt-rimmed stake in the ground with unique twists on the O.G. (In fact, the drink scene is such a draw that Visit Dallas recently relaunched the Margarita Mile, a self-guided food and drink trail of eateries and bars shaking up modern takes on the timeless bev.)
Take Rodarte’s own liquid nitrogen margarita, a drink he first dreamed up in culinary school that’s now the most popular at his and his father’s restaurant, Beto & Son. He believes the business is the culmination of their father-son relationship. “From the time I was young, our house, like most Latin families’, was the place that everyone came to drink, eat and dance,” he says. “Beto & Son gave us the opportunity to share that experience beyond our family and friend group.”
Made with tequila reposado, lime juice, agave, orange liqueur and smoking pitchers of liquid nitrogen, the liquid nitrogen margarita is vigorously whisked tableside until it turns into the silkiest, smoothest, light-as-a-cloud libation you’ll ever taste—all without any dilution. When we tried it ourselves, Rodarte explained, “Liquid nitrogen is -320°F, alcohol freezes at -150°F…Because we’re able to freeze the alcohol itself, we don’t have to add any water…the molecule of alcohol is also much finer than that of water, so it freezes like sorbet.”
4 Tips for Making a Frozen Margarita at Home
- Consider using a blender vs. a margarita machine: Buying a margarita machine may only be practical if you host often. If you typically only make one or two frozen margaritas at a time, you can make a countertop blender work as long as you don’t add too much ice. But at the end of the day, a margarita machine will create a hard-to-top slushy texture that goes down smooth. “One starts with H2O in its frozen state, blending to create a more slushy-like consistency of large cubes that have been cut and blended down to smaller, less consistent pieces of ice,” Rodarte says. “The machine starts with a liquid form of H2O and slowly freezes it in a churning motion to make consistent, smaller ice beads that make the frozen margarita feel a little more emulsified than that of a blender.”
- Use quality tequila: If you’re pouring something that tastes like paint thinner, your drink will be doomed before it’s even made. Invest in a bottle of quality tequila and your margaritas will be better for it. “Buy something with 100 percent blue agave, not a gold tequila or a mixto,” says Rodarte.
- Always use fresh lime juice: The bottled stuff doesn’t compare, and Rodarte calls it “almost impossible” to make a good marg without the real deal.
- Use as little ice as possible: “The more ice, the more water, which means more dilution,” Rodarte says. “Start with a few ice cubes. You can always add more.”
Chef Julian’s Easy Frozen Margarita Recipe
Margaritas are all about proportions. It should be tequila-forward without being too boozy, the lime juice should cut through the intensity of the liquor and a touch of agave and sweet orange liqueur should round out the flavor. To achieve this, Rodarte uses:
- 2 ounces tequila
- 1 ounce orange liqueur
- 1½ ounces fresh lime juice
- ½ ounce agave
This base recipe works on the rocks or blended, but if you’re doing the latter, be sure not to dilute it unnecessarily. “A few cubes of ice are all you need,” says Rodarte (and a powerful blender, we’d add). He also urges you to add your own spin to the drink, which could mean adding fruit purees, spicy peppers or a variety of salts and sugars to the rim. Happy hour at your place?
Taryn Pire is PureWow’s associate food editor. A former bartender and barista, she’s been writing about all things delicious since 2016, developing recipes, reviewing restaurants and investigating food trends at Food52, New Jersey Family Magazine and Taste Talks. When she isn’t testing TikTok’s latest viral recipe, she’s having popcorn for dinner and posting about it on Instagram @cookingwithpire.