Best spots for a Cinco de Mayo celebration

From left, short rib beef tacos, pork al

From left, short rib beef tacos, pork al pastor tacos and baja fish tacos are on the menu at bartaco in Port Chester. (March 20, 2012) (Credit: Angela Gaul)

With the weather warming and summer just around the corner, enter Cinco de Mayo, the perfect excuse to kick back with a margarita and nosh on Mexican fare. Nearly one-quarter of Westchester's population is identified as Hispanic, and in the past five years the number of Mexican restaurants has swelled, particularly in towns like Port Chester and Sleepy Hollow. Here are three good places to celebrate this Saturday.

Que Chula es Puebla

Info: 180 Valley St., Sleepy Hollow; 914-332-0072; quechulaespueblarestaurant.com

This may not be the best Mexican eatery in Westchester, but the setting, the watchful staff, and the bargain prices elevate it to the top ranks. The dining room is decked out in patriotic Mexican hues -- orange, green and white -- and the settings are brightened with colorful plates. Tri-color bunting overhead contributes to a festive vibe.

The often-praised margaritas are just average, so you might want go with one of the tasty rum cocktails. As for the menu, it presents many familiar tunes with tastes of originality. Among the better bets are tacos al carbon (lime-marinated skirt steak with onions, cilantro, and tomatoes), a burrito with skirt steak, pipian con pollo (grilled chicken with a pumpkin seed and tomato sauce) and puerco estillo Sonora (pork loin with green tomatillo sauce and roasted cactus leaves). A kids' menu carries about 10 dishes in the $6 range.

bartaco

Info: 1 Willet Ave., Port Chester; 914-937-8226; bartaco.com

No one would confuse the narrow winding Byram River with the Seine. But if you ignore the squat warehouses and stark stretches of shoreline, you can have a wild Cinco de Mayo at this festive and inexpensive hot spot. The large main dining room -- it has whitewashed walls holding color photos and a beach mural -- is anchored by a giant, teeming bar. Outside is an expansive white deck tended to by exceedingly sociable bartenders. The menu is small, a dozen two-bite soft tacos (pork belly, spicy chorizo, Thai shrimp, and more) for $2.50 each, as well as a number of tamales and other Mexican fare. The wine list is limited and could use some bottles in the $20 range. Servers are ubiquitous when you don't need them, gone fishin' when you do. Cinco de Mayo festivities include live music from noon onward and kid-friendly activities like face painting and crafts from noon to 4 p.m.

Santa Fe

Info: 52 Broadway, Tivoli; 845-757-4100; santafetivoli.com

Every day is a celebration at this busy bar and restaurant that's a hangout for students from nearby Bard College as well as Mexican food aficionados from all around the region. The scene is hot, the (superior) margaritas cool, and the food sizzles with clean and fresh flavors; dishes are never obscured by excessive saucing and gratuitous ingredients.

The dining rooms are done in mustard yellow and dusty blue, with colorful paintings and an open kitchen. In summer, you can enjoy drinks on the front porch and check out the motorcycles that frequent the tiny village center.

The menu is big and not particularly incendiary, unless you brag to the waiter about your asbestos palate. Among the many winners are the quesadilla with achiote-marinated chicken, and another with Baja shrimp and spinach. A taco comes stuffed with slow cooked pork and caramelized onions with white Cheddar cheese, and a lighter one features seafood of the day with guacamole, lime, cilantro and white Cheddar cheese. A longtime favorite is the rib-eye steak set over caramelized onions with a guajillo chile sauce. There is a good selection of Mexican beers.

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