Cinco de Mayo falls on a Saturday this year and Pasadena has got you covered when it comes to celebrating. Bars and restaurants that serve up the flavors of Mexico are getting into the spirit with special menus, discounted drinks and festive events. Here’s the scoop on what’s happening May 5th, plus some tips on where to eat and drink anytime you’re craving the addictive deliciousness that only Mexican cuisine can satisfy.
A Day to Celebrate
IxTapa Cantina is known for hosting the biggest Cinco de Mayo party in town. This year, the restaurant/bar/lounge/nightclub will kick things off with happy hour around 3:00 p.m. when the micheladas and margaritas will start to flow. Things will really heat up around 7:00 p.m. when a cover band takes the stage to play ‘80s and ‘90s hits followed by DJs spinning tunes until last call. From Lucha Libre masks and loteria cards to piñatas and faux mustaches, the vibe will be very playful and quite likely a bit debaucherous.
The atmosphere is sure to be lively at popular eateries like the new Mercado Pasadena, which recently opened in The Commons complex and is the fourth location of the LA restaurant concept by Pasadena native Jesse Gomez and Executive Chef José Acevedo. For Cinco de Mayo, Mercado will open their doors early at 1:00 p.m. and reservations are highly encouraged to ensure there’s a table with your name on it. They’ll be pouring a special $10 house margarita featuring La Terea tequila. El Portal Restaurant will open at 11:00 a.m. but their Cinco de Mayo fiesta truly starts at 6:00 p.m. Dinner guests will be treated to complimentary tequila tastings and appetizers, plus the sounds of Mariachi Real de Oro.
Thanks to one of Hollywood’s favorite villains, Danny Trejo of Trejos Cantina Pasadena won’t be stealing your hard earned cash. Instead, they’ll hook you up with good values by offering their Taco Tuesday menu and beer and margarita discounts. The family-run, contemporary Urbano Mexican Kitchen boasts the largest selection of Mexican beers in the area. On Cinco de Mayo, Corona and Pacifico beers will be priced at $5 all day long. Old Pasadena’s sleek and stylish modern Mexican go-to Maestro Pasadena will be open from 11:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. and also serve several food and drink specials.
If you want to make your Cinco de Mayo a multicultural affair and put an artistic spin on your celebration, attend one of the two evening events being held in the courtyard at the USC Pacific Asia Museum May 4th and 5th at 7:00 p.m. Each night, musicians Jie Ma and Martin Gallardo Jr. will explore the similarities and differences in Chinese and Mexican music traditions through a concert inspired by the museum’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA exhibition, Winds from Fusang: Mexico and China in the Twentieth Century. The exhibition explores the unexamined influence of Mexican art and artists on the development of art in China in the 20th century and will remain on display through June 10, 2018.
Cinco de Mayo is a prime time to embrace the spirit of Mexico, and by spirit, we mean agave-based liquors—mezcal and tequila. Spirits connoisseurs will want to head to Maestro Pasadena to explore their collection of more than 100 different tequilas and 100 varieties of mezcal, including hard to find vintages and boutique producers. Take note, these are meant for sipping, not shooting.
There are some very compelling agave-centric cocktails being shaken and stirred at premier establishments that don’t fall into the “Mexican” category. Try the “Medicina Latina” or “End of Thyme” creations at Bar 1886—or simply ask the mixologist to make you a mezcal or tequila based concoction from their “off menu” repertoire of more than 600 cocktails. Magnolia House is set in a historic craftsman bungalow that was once a post-prohibition liquor shop, so it’s fitting they have a strong cocktail program. Try the “Jerez to Jalisco,” featuring tequila, sherry, agave nectar, amaro, pomegranate shrub firewater and nutmeg. You can easily feast Cinco de Mayo style here, too, given they have queso, nachos and fish tacos on their menu. You can also get your fish taco fix at Edwin Mills, a New American cuisine restaurant and bar in Old Pasadena whose libations offerings include the “Tequila Alma” (Patron Silver muddled with fresh lime, honey, mint and a splash of soda) and “Cucumber Margatini” (a refreshing tequila based martini).
DIY-bartenders can source beer, wine and spirits made in Mexico at Everson Royce, a very well curated wine, beer and spirits shop. Their shelves are stocked with dozens of different tequilas, sotols and mezcals. Wine drinkers can home in on the two Mexican vintages they offer produced by Bichi, a Baja winery that specializes in natural, organic wines. And who could resist the cans of Drinco de Mayo, a Mexican style lager by Mikkeller—it’s made in California by a Dane in partnership with a Tijuana based brewery, and the art makes it look as good as it tastes.
Let’s Taco About It
If crowds aren’t your thing but you want to pay tribute to Cinco de Mayo, get thee to a taqueria or taco truck for some take out. Los California Tacos—also known as El Taquito Mexicano—is the current Yelp! front-runner for “Tacos in Pasadena.” The truck parks on Fair Oaks between Bellevue Drive and California Boulevard next to an auto shop. Fans from near and far come for the tacos from early evening into the wee hours of the morning. Arturo’s is another popular old school taco truck that caters to night owls and parks in a lot on the same block of Fair Oaks from 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. People queue up for their tacos with fresh, hand made corn tortillas filled with meats like lengua (beef tongue), tripas (small intestines), carne asada (steak) and carnitas (pork).
Frida Tacos, located on Colorado Blvd., captures the essence of a walk-up taqueria by offering quick and affordable, yet delicious authentic Mexican cuisine. Taco Treat was established in Arcadia in 1953 and is best known for their hard shell tacos and deep fried burritos. While it’s not exactly “authentic,” it’s a local institution. Tacos Poncitlan is a crowd pleaser with two locations—one in Altadena and one on Allen Avenue in Pasadena proper. Their prices are excellent for the quality of ingredients used to prepare their tacos. La Estrella Tacos #2 on Fair Oaks and Villa is another tried-and-true spot for a good deal. The window walk-up with limited outdoor seating is known for very generous portions, and the burritos are just as popular as the tacos. For a hole-in-the-wall vibe, head to Chiquita Bonita on Colorado Boulevard. The casual restaurant has ample seating if you want to dine in and enjoy a michelada with your meal.
P.S. No matter where you end up dining and drinking on Cinco de Mayo (or any day of the year), please drink responsibly!
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