With live mariachi music and bottomless bowls of chips and salsa, that cantina across the street can be a tempting destination on Cinco de Mayo. But heading to your favorite taco spot on the fifth day of May is not unlike dining prix fixe on Valentine’s Day: you’re likely to get subpar service and a limited menu with inflated prices.
This year, we propose that you skip your favorite margarita spot in favor of hosting your own fiesta with friends. While we’re on that trend of breaking the mold, skip the sickly-sweet frozen margarita mix and artery-clogging queso in favor of some actual Mexican food instead. Here are 13 starting points to inspire you.
1. Papalote-Inspired Salsa
This salsa is an ersatz version of one of San Francisco's most popular from Papalote Mexican Grill. A combination of roasted tomatoes, chiles de árbol, and pasilla peppers mean you won't be able to put it down. Get our Papalote-Inspired Salsa recipe.
2. Arroz Verde
Our favorite Mexican rice comes with plenty of flavor from poblanos, scallions, and cilantro, and parsley — not to mention heat from spicy serranos. Serve it as a side dish with grilled meats. Get our Arroz Verde recipe.
3. Agua de Jamaica
Agua de jamaica, a dark purple, sweet-tart punch, is one of the most ubiquitous drinks in Mexico. Its fruity flavor is easy to replicate if you can track down dried hibiscus flowers. Get our Agua de Jamaica recipe.
4. Pipián-Inspired Vegetable Stew
For this humble Mexican stew, we took inspiration from pipíans, Mexico's mole-like sauces thickened with seeds. Make it ahead of time and serve it at the table right out of the pot. Get our Mexican Vegetable Stew recipe.
Horchata, a milky yet dairy-free refreshment made with rice, almonds, cinnamon, and sugar, is the best way to temper any lingering heat from feisty chiles. Get our Horchata recipe.
6. Cóctel de Camarones
In coastal Mexican towns, it's common to find different versions of shrimp cocktail everywhere. Because the shrimp are poached before they’re marinated, the dish is ideal for those who love the flavors of ceviche but are wary of consuming raw seafood. Get our Mexican Shrimp Cocktail recipe.
7. Black Beans with Mexican Beer
Although these braised black beans are perfect for serving atop tortillas, let’s be honest: this recipe is also an excuse to drink a bottle (or two) of Modelo while manning the stove. Get our Black Beans with Mexican Beer recipe.
Why does the margarita get the spotlight every Cinco de Mayo? We think the Paloma, a tequila drink made with grapefruit soda, tastes even more refreshing. Bonus: it's far less work to make, too. Get our Paloma recipe.
9. Guacamole Taquero
If you prefer smooth green avocado dip to chunky, thick guacamoles, then our guacamole taquero, a blended mix of avocado, tomatillos, epazote, and chiles is for you. Get our Guacamole Taquero recipe.
Freshly-made tortilla chips are the absolute best vehicle for Papalote-inspired salsa or tomatillo guacamole. Get our Basic Tortilla Chips recipe.
11. Ceviche Tostadas
If you're making a raw seafood dish, like this Veracruz-style ceviche tostada, be sure to set aside time ahead of your feast so the seafood has sufficient time to marinate. Get our Ceviche Tostadas recipe.
The salt and lime in this michelada Cubana are just margarita-esque enough for those guests who aren’t tequila drinkers. Get our Michelada recipe.
13. Tres Leches Cake
Close out your meal with tres leches cake, a fluffy, sticky dessert laced with dark rum and coconut milk. Get our Coconut Tres Leches Cake recipe.