Cinco de Mayo is now the second busiest non-winter drinking holiday of the year in the U.S., behind the 4th of July (New Year’s Eve still dominates). As early as 2000, it was already a busy drinking day for bars and restaurants, driven by a powerful marketing machine that saw in this Mexican holiday a chance to create an event around a little-known Mexican celebration.
No, it’s not Mexican Independence Day; that’s September 16, 1810, and Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates a Mexican victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla (a region southeast of Mexico City), wouldn’t occur until more than 50 years later. Mexicans in the U.S. and Mexico began celebrating this event as early as 1863, but it didn’t show up in American culture until the late 1960s.
Regional Mexican cuisine is still pretty rare in most cities, so the focus of Cinco de Mayo celebrations has always been TexMex joints, which means the elements of the celebration are beer, tequila, chips, queso, guacamole, salsa and of course, tacos. Oklahoma City is fortunate to be on the edge of the American Southwest, so our Cinco de Mayo choices do involve regional cuisine, as well as excellent TexMex concepts.
Chips and Salsa
In many places, it’s taken the spot that free bread used to have in the hearts of American diners. The style of chips can be a bit divisive — thin and light versus thick and hefty — but that’s an argument for your own dinner table. Barrios offers the latter style, as well as three different salsas, including a delicious habanero version for people who love a little heat (they also have one of the city’s best house margaritas). 1492 has some of the best “free salsa” in the city, and depending on the pepper that day, it can have a little heat, too.
Chips and Queso
In addition to having one of OKC’s best bar programs, FRIDA Southwest also offers queso fundido. No, it’s not necessarily a traditional dish, but we’ve already established that we’re borrowing another country’s celebration for the sake of indulging our craving for delicious food. They use the chunky chips, which makes it easier to scrape up the delicious cheesiness. Barrios gets a nod here, too, for their delicious queso with chorizo. Big Truck Tacos has an excellent chorizo choice in their Dirty Little Queso, and it comes with the lighter-style chips for people who enjoy breaking their chips in cheese.
Oh, that all vegetables tasted this good when smashed. It’s also fair to note that lime, garlic, onions and tomatoes would help millions of kids eat their veggies. It’s all about fresh and ripe avocados, but you can find excellent version all over the metro: Barrios, Revolucion, Mama Roja and Big Truck.
Trompudo’s Tacos is relatively new, but Lupe Garcia has already established himself as one of the sharpest operators in the metro, with fantastic al pastor from the “trompo” and spectacular suadero. All the tacos have customized, house-made salsas for each meat: suadero, pastor, carnitas, chorizo and asada. Bonus: Garcia also makes stellar mulitas (think delicious mini quesadillas), and he’s added margaritas and Palomas. For vegetarians, Revolucion offers a couple different veggie tacos, and the cauliflower option is memorably delicious. For a more TexMex style, Abel’s offers beef and chicken in the crispy shells we learned to love as kids, and the whole menu is full of delicious selections. Since quesabirria tacos are finally getting the recognition they deserve, stop by Mexican Radio for an excellent introduction.
Looking to provide food for a small gathering at your place? Head over to Carnitas el Patron for the city’s best carnitas. Order a pound, and you get fresh tortillas, salsa fresca with chile arbol, and red and green sauce. You’ll want the option that comes with buche and cuerito, though, but taste them before you look up those words.
The enchiladas verdes at Azteca Mexican Grill are a tangy treat, with delicious tomatillo salsa and roasted chicken. The stacked enchiladas at Hacienda Tacos come with mojo chicken, smoked pork, or pork, and because it’s New Mexico-style, you can get Christmas sauce.
Chile Verde and Colorado
For hearty appetites, traditional chile colorado and chile verde offer a “stew” of sorts that combines perfectly with rice. The former is usually a sauce of arbol chiles with a zesty, tangy kick, and the latter is straightforward chile verde with pork. Both Lazy Donkey and Chapala Family Mexican Kitchen offer excellent versions of both.
Cinco de Mayo is as American as any holiday we celebrate in OKC, and it really doesn't matter if you choose TexMex or regional Mexican food for your celebration. The point is to dive into the wonderful diversity we have in this city.