Cinco de Mayo -- it's the spiciest holiday on the calendar. And one of the most carefree, despite its serious underpinnings.
Not -- as some believe -- the Mexican Fourth of July, the holiday actually commemorates the Mexican victory against the French in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
"It focuses on the bravery of the Mexican people," explains Walter Aguirre, manager of Mangoes restaurant in Bethpage, one of several establishments celebrating Cinco de Mayo.
On this day, the accent is on good times, with food fiery to mild, those famously strong tequila and fruit drinks, and high-spirited mariachi music served up in brightly decorated dining rooms.
Mariachis and Cinco de Mayo go together like, well, tacos and hot sauce, so be prepared to be serenaded with classic tunes like "Cielito Lindo" from the roving band of sombrero-wearing mariachi singers. For fans of Mexican tradition, this is the full Cinco de Mayo experience with sombreros, Mexican blankets and maracas decorating the walls. On the plate: classic Mexican Continental dishes such as mole Poblano. Expect T-shirt and beer opener giveaways, and a festive atmosphere. "It's very happy here" on Cinco de Mayo, Aguirre says.
Open since September, Perfecto Mundo puts a slightly different spin on the holiday. "It's not your traditional Cinco de Mayo," says restaurateur Liz Keschl. Its Latin fusion menu includes entrees such as seafood paella and grilled marinated Argentine skirt steak. Keep time to the recorded Latin fusion music with maracas, which will be given out as party favors. Twenty bucks buys a tasting flight of Don Julio Blanco, Reposado and Anejo tequila.
Leave your worries behind -- literally -- at Besito's Mexican fiesta. A traditional Mexican worry doll (with instructions) goes to each guest. "We tell the customer to tell all their worries to the doll at the end of the night, put it under their pillow, and the next morning they should wake up worry free," says Jose Reyes, regional manager. The upscale menu includes mole Poblano, a traditional dish in Puebla, and seviche. Margaritas go beyond the usual lime flavor to include pomegranate, mango and tangerine juices -- there's even a cucumber jalapeno Margarita. Thanks to the jalapeno, "It has a little bit of a kick," Reyes says. A warm churro -- a kind of cinnamon doughnut -- comes with the check.
"Frozen Margaritas are our thing," says general manager Nathan Berkenfeld. They come in 40 varieties, including mango, Italian ice, with a baby Corona bottle inside or mixed with Sangria. For an authentic South of the Border refresher, order a cocktail in a coconut. With free T-shirts and other giveaways at Cabo, "you get that vibe that you're on vacation," Berkenfeld says. Dine out front amid the potted palm trees or out back in Cabo's new patio.