Republic Cantina's spicy margarita
Republic Cantina's spicy margarita Credit: Republic Cantina

Emerging from our protective pandemic cocoons calls for a shock to the system. Enter the spicy margarita—the lip-tingling tipple that drinks like a dare. It primes your tastebuds for a meal and signals it’s time to party. Need proof? Tex-Mex restaurant Republic Cantina owner Chris Svetlik says he’s sold an average of 150 spicy margaritas per week in March and April, and that’s with cold wind and without welcoming diners indoors.

“I love a good spicy marg because it offers something refreshingly different from the flavors you traditionally try to balance in a cocktail—acid, sweet, boozy, and sometimes bitter,” Svetlik says. Many of the cocktails at his Truxton Circle restaurant incorporate ingredients from the kitchen, giving way to savory cocktails and shots. “Our customer base definitely doesn’t shy away from spicy food and apparently this also carries over to cocktails.”

Republic Cantina combines house-made tequila infused with fresh habanero peppers, blanco tequila, lime, and agave. You can swap in other agave spirits like mezcal and sotol and even ask to up the spicy quotient if you’re seeking more fire. 

Not all spicy margaritas call for habaneros. Jalapeños, serranos, and other peppers get the job done. Nor is there only one way to incorporate heat into the drink. Bartenders can muddle or crush the peppers, shake them with the rest of the cocktail, infuse the tequila with the peppers, create a pepper tincture, or crush dried peppers into the salt rim of the glass. 

Spicy margaritas aren’t just popping up on menus at places that have chips and guacamole on the menu. New American restaurant Duck & The Peach offers a margarita with a kick in Eastern Market. Here are 19 places in D.C. proper to find them right now, on Cinco de Mayo, and all summer long: 

The Duck & The Peach, 300 7th St. SE

Spicy margarita with Calabrian chili ($14)

El Bebe, 99 M St. SE #120

Fresa-jalapeño margarita ($11.50)

El Camino, 108 Rhode Island Ave. NW

Frozen habanero-mango margarita ($10)

El Centro D.F., 1218 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Pepino margarita with serrano peppers and cucumber ($11)

El Chucho, 3313 11th St. NW

Frozen strawberry or blood orange habanero margarita ($7)

El Rey, 919 U St. NW

El Rey spicy margarita ($12 for a glass, $42 for a pitcher) 

El Techo, 606 Florida Ave. NW

Spicy mezcal margarita with habanero pineapple ($13) 

Mayahuel, 2609 24th St. NW

Spicy margarita ($10 for a glass, $40 for a pitcher)

Misson Dupont, 1606 20th St. NW
Pineapple-jalapeño margarita ($13 for a glass, $38 for a pitcher)

Mi Vida, 98 District Square SW

Cielo Rojo margarita with pasilla-infused cranberry ($14)

Oyamel, 401 7th St. NW 

Serrano margarita ($13 for a glass, $66 for a pitcher)

Paraíso Taquería & Mezcalería, 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. SE

El Diablo margarita with blood orange ($12)

Republic Cantina, 43 N St NW

Spicy margarita ($11)

Surfside, 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Spicy margarita ($12 for a glass, $42 for a pitcher)

Taco City, 1102 8th St. SE

Picante margarita ($9)

Taqueria Habanero, 3710 14th St. NW

Habanero margarita ($13) or Spicy mezcal margarita ($14)

Tequila & Mezcal, 3475 14th St. NW

Habanero margarita ($12)

Tortilla Coast, 400 First St. SE

Bold & Spicy margarita with pineapple ($12)

Walter’s, 10 N St. SE

Spicy margarita ($12)