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Cinco for Cinco: 5 ideas for celebrating May's holiday

Cinco de Mayo usually is not celebrated in a big way in Mexico. Most workers get the day off (although this year it falls on a Saturday) but that's about it. Mexico's Independence Day falls on Sept. 16, which is the day of big festivities.

Regardless, the clubs will probably be in full swing in Tijuana and Ensenada, and the music and beer will probably flow along Avenida Revolución because it is such a terrific tourist attraction. But the best celebrations will occur in San Diego, with its many Mexican restaurants. Here are some ideas for enjoying the day.

La Jolla

Alfonso's of La Jolla (858-454-2232) is very popular because of its convenient mid-Village location, excellent patio dining and great food. The restaurant has been serving dishes based on authentic family recipes for 36 years. Entrées range from carne asada to lobster. The garlic flavors of Camarones Al Moja Al Ajo are simply superb. The Village is always fun to visit after dining.

La Mesa

Casa de Pico (619-463-3267) was relocated from Old Town (Bazaar del Mundo) to La Mesa in Grossmont Center. The new building was designed to look 200 years old, full of tradition and color, with enclosed patios. The restaurant maintains its reputation for giant margaritas and great food. Mariachis will be playing throughout the evening while diners feast. Try the fajitas, some of the best in town.

Old Town

This is where our city began and it is one of the favorite places to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Old Town is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state! There is a good selection of restaurants from which to choose, but here are three that are very enjoyable.

El Agave Taquileria (619-220-0692) is more than a restaurant -- it is a repository of history, traditions and flavors of tequila, the liquor that is indigenous to Mexico and produced mainly in four of its states: Jalisco, Guanajuato, Nayarit and Tamaulipas.

Even the Aztecs knew about tequila and how it enhances the flavors of food. It is made by cooking the heart of the Agave cactus and distilling it. Agave comes from the Latin word meaning "admirable." There are more than 125 varieties of the cactus but the best for making tequila is "azul." The restaurant has a long list of tequilas to sample that go with its delicious and innovative menu. It is located on the second story of a building at the entrance of Old Town, with a comfortable patio for exquisite dining. El Agave has won numerous awards for food and ambiance, and it just celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Old Town Mexican Café (619-297-4330) is one of our city's most famous Mexican restaurants, a consistent award winner. Diners love the comfortable ambiance, good food and drinks. It is always fun to watch the colorful "taco ladies" pat mounds of corn and flour into delectable tortillas. Old Town Pollo is a full half-chicken with all the trimmings. Chile Verde is made of tender chunks of pork along with hot green chiles. Its patio is very popular, particularly when mariachis come by with their guitars, trumpets and violins.

Casa Guadalajara (619-295-5111) is the remnant of the former Bazaar del Mundo complex. Located at the corner of Taylor and Juan streets, it has a colorful interior and a magnificent patio with a tree that must be 100 years old, full of large boughs that offer shade and comfort. It also has a large, free parking lot. The food is superb, created by the award-winning chef Jose Duran. Portion sizes are large and prices are very moderate. My favorite dishes are the fajitas and the tostada salads. Margaritas are huge. Strolling mariachis bring music and fun to the mix.

San Diego is fortunate to have so many Mexican restaurants that it is possible to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in almost every neighborhood. In general, the food is usually good wherever one dines. I suggested these restaurants because dining at them can be a very special experience, the kind that Cinco de Mayo deserves. Drink responsibly, drive carefully and enjoy!


Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine and member of the California Restaurant Writers Association. Send comments to the editor@sddt.com. All letters are forwarded to the author and may be used as Letters to the Editor.

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