Cinco De Mayo

Growing up in a Mexican family in Chicago, there were always three guarantees: pride in our heritage was abundant, food and beverage were serious matters, and life was loud.  As an adult, things have not changed.  As we celebrate Cinco de Mayo today, all three will undoubtedly join together to make an appearance. Maybe that's even true for you. But before we begin the celebration, some history.

If you ever want to make any Mexican feel warm and fuzzy, inform them that you know that Mexican Independence Day is not the cause for celebration on Cinco de Mayo. Que?  Yes, you read that right.  Mexico jumps for joy in September for freedom purposes, but today is a different story.  On May 5, 1862, the Battle of Puebla took place in a town to the west of Mexico City.  It was here that, armed with antiquated weapons, the inexperienced Mexican Army defeated the larger and more powerful French military. 

While the Mexicans lost the war, it was this battle’s victory that ultimately impacted overall morale and pride.  So much so that just four days after the win, President Benito Juarez (the Mexican equivalent of Abraham Lincoln) made the 5th of May a national day of remembrance.  The holiday has traversed all kinds of borders and fiestas everywhere, especially throughout the U.S. With such a rich Mexican history, Chicago is no different.  Check out these cantinas that will surely help your celebration.

Adobo Grill: The Margarita One

adobo grill

Located in what was once known as Piper’s Alley and in a a building that once housed a place called That Steak Joint, Adobo Grill oozes with Old Town history. Many hungry hippies meandered along Wells Street and would pop in for a bite before or after a show at Second City or The Earl of Old Town.  If her walls could talk, they would say, “peace, mi compadre."  But today she is a solid and classic Mexican restaurant with a straightforward and simple margarita.  The perfect combo of sweet, sour and tart, they provide a delicious no-frills basic recipe that never fails. (1610 N. Wells St.)

Del Toro: The Well-Rounded One

Born to Mexican immigrants, Everardo and Andres Garcia grew up in Pilsen working at their family’s stores.  While their mother cooked up traditional Mexican fare at La Favorita, the brothers ran F&R Liquor.  Wanting to combine experiences, the duo opened Del Toro in 2012.  The restaurant offers a great tequila selection and a varied margarita list, but it also includes other Latino classics, like The Paloma, a tequila-based drink made with none other than Squirt. Squirt? Yes, I know, I didnt even know Squirt still existed either.  But if you want to drink like one of my Mexican aunts or cousins, go for it. You might be pleasantly surprised. (2133 S. Halsted St.)

Delilah’s: The Tequila One

Delilah

Mike Miller opened Delilah’s in 1993 as a way to showcase his love of beer. After he grew his list to over 300, he moved on to whiskey. Carrying over 400 types, it’s no surprise that it’s been voted the best whiskey bar in the world.  As Mike’s love for whiskey evolved, so did his interest in tequila.  When Delilah’s opened over 20 years ago, he already carried ten kinds of tequilas, a great list in those days as most bars only offered basics like Jose Cuervo.  As a regular judge at the World Tequila Championships,  Mike has worked to build his knowledge of tequila and spirits in general. Working directly with boutique distilleries in Mexico is important to him and a main reason while you’ll encounter rare tequilas and mezcals found only at Delilah’s. (2771 N. Lincoln)

Pl-zen: The Local One

Pilsen has strong European roots and during the late 1800s, it became a thriving neighborhood for Czech immigrants.  Soon the area was named Plzen, after one of the larger cities in the now Czech Republic.  Mexican immigrants slowly inhabited the area to make it the vibrant community it is today, and over time, the neighborhood transformed itself from Plzen to Pilsen.  This locale embraces the neighborhood in every facet of its past and present, carrying on traditional recipes but adding a creative modern flair.  Local products and purveyors are often featured, like 5 Rabbit Cervezeria, a Latino-owned and inspired Chicago brewery. (1519 W. 18th St.)