This Saturday, May 5th, marks a holiday that began as regional celebration in Mexico, but in the ensuing century-and-a-half, has become an internationally recognized day of revelry.
Cinco de Mayo is now of the most popular celebratory days in the United States, and in the Washington, D.C. area, it is always large and boisterous party.
The festival originated in the Mexican state of Puebla to commemorate the Mexican Army’s victory over the French on May 5, 1862, in the Battle of Puebla during the French Occupation of Mexico.
The reason Cinco de Mayo has become such a popular day in the United States is twofold. One, many historians believe that had the French won that battle, they would have went on to help the Confederacy in the Civil War. So early on, people celebrated the day as one of the turning points in American history.
Then, much more recently, in 2005, Congress recognized Cinco de Mayo as an official day of observance for Mexican heritage. So now, it is indeed an excellent day to revel in all things South of the border.
Locally, the biggest festival celebrating the day is the National Cinco de Mayo Festival, which takes place on the National Mall. This is the 20th year of the event. While it began as an homage to the holiday, it has since transformed into a celebration of all Latino cultures.
The biggest attraction of the free festival each year is the Maru Montero Dance Company, who will perform at the Sylvan Theater in the National Mall. The company was formed by a dancer of the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, and for the past 20 years has been this country’s leading Latin American dance troupe.
The festival takes place from noon to 6 p.m. on the Mall around the Sylvan Theater, which is located at the intersection of 15th Street and Independence Avenue SW. Also during the day there will be mariachi bands performing and arts and crafts activities for children.
But the festival isn’t the only way to go about celebrating this vivacious holiday. In the past two years, the District has seen an influx of fantastic Mexican restaurants, and three of them will host Cinco de Mayo parties that shouldn’t be missed.
Right off the bustling U Street corridor is one of the most popular Mexican restaurants in the area, El Centro D.F. Though it’s only been around for a year, the rooftop patio is always packed with people. The restaurant actually swung open its doors on Cinco de Mayo last year, so alongside its May 5th party, visitors can toast El Centro a happy birthday. The specials for the celebration include $5 margaritas, $4 beers and heaps of free Mexican cuisine, including quesadillas, tacos and flautas.
Down the road and a bit west is one of Washington, D.C.’s fastest growing shops. Surfside, in Glover Park, is known for filling up the best fish taco in down, and their recently opened food truck has notably long lines on weekdays. Surfside’s also known for its breezy rooftop deck, where they will have specials on margaritas and Mexican beer, while the restaurant’s kitchen will dish out tacos until 11 p.m.
Last is a Mexican restaurant that has yet to open, but is already garnering an amazing amount of buzz. Bandolero is the latest offering by D.C.’s current hottest chef, Mike Isabella. He will be opening the restaurant, which is right on M Street, soon. But on Cinco de Mayo, Isabella will take over the kitchen at Cleveland Park’s Tackle Box to give visitors a taste of his upcoming menu. And from 5-7 p.m., everyone can get free miniature samples of the restaurant’s take on the margarita.
So when May 5th rolls around this weekend, be sure to head into the District and celebrate the right way.
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