What does Cinco de Mayo have in common with fortune cookies? Neither things are that big a deal outside the United States.
Cinco de Mayo is certainly celebrated in Mexico, but not nearly on the scale that it is here in the United States. Americans have taken the holiday and created a celebration of Mexican culture in general, sometimes going as far as to confuse it with a celebration of Mexican independence – which is actually held on September 16. Beginning with Chicano activists in the 1960s looking for a way to honor history and culture, Cinco de Mayo has gained a significant foothold for large-scale celebrations in the United States, specifically in cities with hefty Hispanic populations. While you probably won’t find bustling street festivals or massive parades here in our Orange County, there are still ways to observe Cinco de Mayo – starting with fantastic Mexican food.
While Carrburritos slings local flavor from a burrito bar and Cosmic Cantina is very much a standard of well-prepared Mexican food on the relatively cheap and quick side of things (no matter how late it might be) limiting options within the borders of Chapel Hill and Carrboro does other small local restaurants a disservice.
El Restaurante Ixtapa, located in Hillsborough, is exactly the sort of place to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Tucked away far enough off main roads to be semi-secluded but not far enough to pose even a slight inconvenience, Ixtapa offers some of the most fantastic Mexican fare around. The word “authentic” gets thrown around quite a bit, but Ixtapa truly deserves the title. In everything from the phenomenal Bistec Ranchero frequently found on the specials board to fresh house-made tortilla chips and guacamole, Ixtapa will impress even the most jaded fans of Mexican fare with its fresh ingredients, real Mexican recipes and excellent preparation. Even if you don’t get the chilled coconut, enjoy watching someone else’s get machete-opened on the patio.
For those closer to Pittsboro and willing to make a trip down Highway 87, Ulvia’s is truly a diamond in the rough. Located by the side of the road with an unassuming exterior, UIvia’s offers standouts in the form of their tacos al pastor and “ACC,” arroz con camaron. The menu is simple, as is the restaurant itself, but the simplicity inarguably works. Eating at Ulvia’s is akin to a home-cooked meal, and that’s definitely a good thing.
For those looking for any excuse to whip up and drink down a tequila-based cocktail to celebrate the Mexican victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla, remember that there’s no substitute for quality ingredients in your margarita. A pre-made mix might be convenient, but it’s clarity in fewer ingredients that will make your drinks delicious. Fresh limes to squeeze, quality tequila (Corzo Silver works especially well), a touch of triple sec and a hint of agave nectar – that’s the only recipe you need. The boozier, the better.
Happy Cinco de Mayo, and remember to celebrate safely.