Lest the history of Cinco de Mayo be drowned beneath a sea of weak, artificially-flavored margaritas, it’s time for mandatory Mexican History 101: That holiday you’re celebrating has to do with a war victory. Specifically, a May 5, 1862 win by the comparatively weak Mexican army of 4,000, over the 8,000-strong, fifty-years-undefeated, Mexican-invasion-attempting French army.
A feat to be celebrated, for sure. And no better way to celebrate the spirit and perseverance of those 4,000 than with a margarita toast and a delicious Mexican feast at one of these area restaurants, for which we might be forced to live without, had it not been for victory on el 5 de mayo. –Chelsea Karnash
Adobe Cafe - Roxborough
Adobe Cafe - South Philadelphia
Roxborough’s Adobe has been around since 1989, offering up a wide variety of classic Mexican and Southwest fare. The outdoor patio is super cute, plus vegetarians and vegans will be well taken care of here, as the restaurant boasts an array of veggie/vegan menu options. Friendly service and—though not remotely Mexican—the best wings around, too.
Cantina Dos Segundos
Want to start Cinco de Mayo off with a Mexican brunch? You’re in luck: Dos Segundos offers brunch every day from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Pair that with a well-curated menu of delicious cocktails and the fact that the kitchen is open until 1 a.m., and you’ve got your Cinco plans taken care of. Just be sure to go early, as they don’t take reservations for groups smaller than eight.
Cantina Los Caballitos
Sister restaurant to Dos Segundos (and Khyber Pass and Royal Tavern), Los Caballitos offers up an area outside where you can people watch to your heart’s delight. They also have half-price pitchers of margaritas during happy hour, as well as a number of vegetarian and vegan menu options.
It’s loud, it’s pink and it always feels like a fiesta inside Chef Jose Garces’ Distrito, rated one of the best Mexican restaurants in the county by Travel + Leisure. And while the food might not be traditional (“Nachos Libres,” anyone?), options like tasty rabbit mole or mushroom huaraches are can’t-miss. Care for a drink? Try a seasonal frozen margarita or the stellar Hemingway, a mix of chile-infused tequila, maraschino and grapefruit.
El Limon Taqueria
Two words: free margaritas. Yes, you read that right. This convenience store/restaurant hybrid might not boast the prettiest ambiance, but it offers up yummy, authentic food and homemade sauces, for cheap. Plus, El Limon is open until 3 a.m. on weekends, so you can make a pit stop when those post-bar munchies hit—dangerous.
El Rey might have an old-school exterior, but inside, the place is all Stephen Starr. Expect innovative cuisine from Chef Dionicio, who grew up on a farm in Puebla, Mexico on the holiday, when this Chestnut Street taqueria offers a special two-day menu of various nachos, tacos and enchiladas.
The website describes El Vez as “Mexican-American meets east L.A. in a Tijuana taxi,” and as far as someone who has never been to East L.A. or Mexico knows, that’s pretty accurate. Vivid colors, loud music and a see-and-be-seen crowd. The food’s pretty darn good, too. Get the most bang for your buck by ordering either of the nacho options, as portions can run on the small side.
In 2013, El Vez (along with Sampan and Vintage Wine Bar) will be hosting an all-day Cinco de Mayo block party on 13th Street from noon to 9 p.m. The fiesta includes pop up food and drink stands as well as live music from “the Mexican Elvis,” El Vez.
Looking for an upscale Cinco de Mayo celebration? Head to Lolita. The 13th street eatery, part of the Marcie Turney/Valerie Safran empire, is BYOT (bring your own tequila; they’ll make the margarita base) and cash-only. They also don’t accept reservations, but if you can stand waiting, the food is totally worth it.
For this year’s Cinco, Lolita is joining in the 13th Street festivities by opening early. From noon to 4 p.m., gorge yourself on the three “T” menu of tacos, tamales and tortas. Starting at 5 p.m., the restaurant’s regular Latin menu will be offered.
Mexican Post may not be the prettiest restaurant on the list, or offer up food that’s worth raving about, but it’s still good. Plus, the place is fun, and the outdoor dining at the Love Park location is…love-ly. Great for groups, or an after work happy hour.
Taqueria La Veracruzana
In a word, authentic. Taqueria is known for having possibly the best Mexican in the city. It may not be beautiful (nor is the area), the service is friendly and speedy, and the food is excellent, comforting and extremely cheap. Make sure to stop by the shady liquor store down the street beforehand, as TLV is BYOB.
Though Xochitl (so-cheet) possesses one of the most un-phonetic spellings of any restaurant in the city, it has some of the most delicious Mexican food. Pig out on stellar guac then order the Molcajete Dinner , a $28 shareable special served Sunday through Thursday. And don’t forget to toast the holiday with a Blood Orange Margarita, complete with a smoked sea salt rim.