5 DE MAYO
611 Old Country Rd., Westbury
SERVICE: Prompt and warm
AMBIENCE: A modest strip mall restaurant sells margaritas and generous portions of Tex-Mex dishes in a spot that’s especially hopping on mariachi nights.
ESSENTIALS: Lunch and dinner, noon to 10 p.m., Sunday to Thursday, noon to 11 p.m. Friday and noon to midnight Saturday. Catering, credit cards, wheelchair accessible, reservations, parking lot.
There are no giant margaritas, provocatively named cocktails or line-dancing servers. But there is a robust spiritedness at 5 De Mayo in Westbury, especially when the mariachi band plays Friday and Sunday nights.
Even the chef/owner, Roberto Herrera, gets in on a song. Wearing a black chef’s jacket, he belts out the chorus, shaking the maracas in a group that includes a guy playing an accordion wrapped in the colors of the Mexican flag. They’re singing to a customer who’s wearing a giant sombrero: her eyes creased, her smile wide.
The fiesta vibe is completely entertaining — I’d venture to say transformative — in what’s otherwise a modest strip mall restaurant next to a nail salon, stationery store, Chinese restaurant and pizza place. It doesn’t hurt that there’s a happy hour with drinks between $3 and $6 from 4 to 7 p.m. It takes place around the cozy bar, near the widescreen TV in a dining room framed by holiday lights, Corona flags and a life-size lit-up bottle of Modelo Especial. There’s something lovable about this 2-year-old Tex-Mex spot, a classic cheap eats restaurant with tacos served on house-made flour tortillas, with sides of rice and beans. It’s a little more expensive than what you’d find at a taqueria, but it’s a different kind of place, between tables dressed in white tablecloths, standard cocktails, perfectly fine table wines and a band that helps diners push aside inhibitions.
Herrera is no stranger to the restaurant industry, having worked as a chef for Bryant & Cooper Steak House in Roslyn until recently. 5 De Mayo is his first solo spot, and he’s in full-throttle hospitality mode, working front and back of the house, as he builds a clientele from around Long Island. His menu covers the bases, including appetizers described as “before battle” fare, (a reference to the 1862 Battle of Puebla, which is celebrated on Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican national holiday). More hearty dishes include burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, tacos and General Zaragoza’s entrees.
How can you resist queso for starters? Molten cheese that somehow never solidifies, begs for stirred-in ingredients, from salsas to hot sauces, peppers and herbs. The guilty pleasure aspect of it trumps nachos deluxe, tortillas glossy and browned with melted cheese, dolloped with a restrained serving of refried beans, sour cream, guacamole. Three whole jalapeños serve as the garnish.
Whether it’s an order of carnitas, chorizo or beef tongue, palm-sized tacos arrive in a flour tortilla double-layered, dressed with finely chopped cilantro and tomatoes, served with salsas, rice and beans. They’re straightforward and satisfying, albeit markedly smaller than the burritos as big as a forearm, swollen with refried beans and rice.
For larger plates, steak fajitas with red and green peppers deliver sizzle on a hot plate, with the side of warm tortillas nesting in a basket, served with pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream. Many of the entrees are big on beef: steak and eggs, steak mole, steak alambre, carne asada, skirt steak and steak ranchero. A vegetarian entree, chili poblano is appropriately smothered, from the tomato-based ranchero sauce to the blanket of cheese.
Even if you’re quite full from a meal that starts with chips and salsa and ends with a giant steak — or a dessert such as flan or tres leches — chances are, you’ll leave in a better mood than when you arrived: thanks to warm hospitality, generous portions and that weekend mariachi, with or without a serenade.