Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo isn't the Mexican Fourth of July—in fact, the day doesn't get much attention in Mexico at all. Cinco De Mayo began as a celebration of the Mexican victory over France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The holiday made its way over to the U.S. in the 1960s and ‘70s as a way for those of Mexican descent to show pride in their heritage. Then, the marketing mavens got involved and Cinco de Mayo in America proceeded to morph into more of a happy hour holiday than a celebration of a culture.
This May 5, why not actually experience the rich culinary traditions of Mexico? Unbeknownst to many, there's a small stretch of Cherokee Street west of Jefferson Avenue that's home to some of the best authentic Mexican eateries in town. From tacos to tortas to tamales and beyond, this area has more flavor per square foot than any other two blocks in town. Do yourself a favor and check out the offerings at these fine establishments and see what real Mexican food is all about:
Taqueria El Torito(2753 Cherokee St.)
This colorful, spacious place has plenty of seating inside and on the covered patio. In the attached Mercado, you'll find everything from cowboy hats and saint candles to authentic ingredients like cactus leaves that are hard to find anywhere else.
Recommendations:The al pastor (marinated pork) and tripa (tripe) tacos are real standouts. Ingredients like tripe hearken back to a time when every bit of the animal was used out of necessity. While it might seem odd to some modern palates, when done right, tripe can be as flavorful as any meat.
Carniceria Latino Americano(2800 Cherokee St.)
Like El Torito, this restaurant is conveniently adjacent to a mercado, which has plenty of indigenous culinary treasures. On our visit, we picked up a couple of bottles of miche mix, a spicy lime concoction that's added to beer for an extra kick. There's a bit of counter seating, as well as an enclosed street-side patio.
Recommendations:The barbacoa (spicy slow-cooked beef) and chicken tacos are superb. The tamales here are renowned, as well, but are only available on weekends.
La Vallesana(2801 Cherokee St.)
Tons of patio seating is available at this sprawling corner space, in addition to two indoor dining rooms. They recently started serving drinks, as well, and now sport a full bar.
Recommendations:Try the shrimp tacos and the tamales, for sure. For the adventurous eater, the menudo—a tripe broth—is worth a try.
Cielito Lindo(2812 Cherokee St.)
Decorated with myriad colorful players’ jerseys, this is the place for soccer fans to have a bite and watch the game.
Recommendations:The fajitas del mar—a plate full of shrimp, mussels, crab and squid bits ready to spoon into soft corn tortillas, with rice and refried beans alongside—will satisfy any craving.
El Bronco Taqueria(2817 Cherokee St.)
This cozy storefront restaurant is a perfect spot to pop in and grab a bite. Aside from the serape on the wall, there's not much in the way of decor. They let the food do the talking.
Recommendations:Of course, the tacos are the go-to here—specifically the cabeza (cheeks), lengua (tongue) and chorizo versions. All are topped with cilantro and fresh, crunchy slices of radish. And like the other establishments we visited, they come on soft, chewy tortillas with nary a bit of sour cream or shredded cheese in sight.