Cinco de Mayo Fiestas

Erin O’Hara

Although widely believed to be Mexico's Independence Day (which is actually September 16), Cinco de Mayo in fact commemorates a different milestone in history: the country's May 5, 1862, victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla. The holiday, however, has evolved into a wide-ranging celebration of Mexican culture—including its cuisine, music, dance and, of course, margaritas.

The eatery Mamá Mexico—whose owner hails from the state of Puebla, where the legendary battle with the French took place—throws an annual party to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. It goes without saying that you don't have to be Mexican to join in on the fun, but it helps if you at least know "La Cucaracha," the holiday's unofficial anthem. Enjoy this and other mariachi favorites at the restaurant, where the authentic fiesta commences at 7pm, replete with a live band and Mexican folk dancers.

You can similarly fete Mexican culture and cuisine at one of Julian Medina's restaurants. Be prepared to sweat a little, as the renowned Mexican chef adds a hearty kick (read: chili peppers and other hot ingredients) to many dishes. During its soiree, Toloache, named after the Mexican flower known for its use in potions of amor, serves up a special menu of spicy family-style meals, alongside a live mariachi band (a prix fixe meal is available only to parties of six or more). Don't worry—if the heat is searing, you can always cool down with a De la Calle margarita (a drink featuring Siembra Azul Tequila Blanco, cucumber, jicama, basil and fresh lime). The Medina outposts Yerba Buena and Yerba Buena Perry have a different, but equally piquant, menu—even the chocolate cake contains chipotle.

The restaurant Maya is hosting a flavorfully gourmet celebration on May 5, when guests can enjoy a three-course "modern Mexican" menu for $50. Complement the meal with a margarita from the bar, which serves up more than 100 different tequilas and mezcals. Mariachis play from 6pm until the party ends.

If you want to begin the festivities earlier in the day, stop by Sinigual for $3 tacos and wings, $4 guacamole and $6 ceviche, available starting at 4pm. Or enjoy an especially long happy hour at the restaurant/bar Gonzalez y Gonzalez, where draft beer is $3 and house margaritas cost just $5 from noon to 6pm. The evening's entertainment includes the invigorating sounds of live salsa courtesy of Ralph Irizarry y Amigos, who play two one-hour sets at 10:30pm and 12:30am; before that, Gonzalez will feature a five-piece mariachi band at 7pm, DJ Charlie (who will be spinning from late afternoon until close), giveaways and more. The venue has plenty of room for dancing, so you can easily segue from food and drinks to footwork as the occasion warrants.

Rocking Horse Café's yearly bash is sure to be a hit, thanks to specialty platos pequeños (small plates) like guajillo-braised-pork masa dumplings. Guests will also be treated to the festive music of mariachis while sipping the frozen watermelon margarita, which Rocking Horse debuts for the season as May begins. Stop by for one…or several.

No matter where you celebrate—or how you choose to toast Mexico's vibrant culture—Cinco de Mayo provides ample opportunity to savor the mole, mariachi, salsa and other specialties to keep you happily entertained through the night.