The Familia Kitchen Guide to the History, Food and Drinks of Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo Familia Kitchen

Starring 20 of our favorite Mexican drinks, starters, dishes and deserts to serve at your Cinco celebration, this and every May 5!

Cinco de Mayo invites everyone in the U.S. — no matter where your family comes from — to celebrate our neighbor to the south, the homeland of the largest U.S. Latino population, and the general awesomeness of all things Mexican.

Cincos tend to go like this: It’s spring, el sol is out (🌞🤞🏽), and people gather at home, in a restaurant or at a bar. The tunes get turned all the way up, and the Mexican food and tequila start flowing. It’s time to raise a glass … to what?

How many Cinco de Mayo-ers know what we’re actually celebrating?

That got us thinking. And we have so many questions. Starting with:
• What is the meaning of the fifth day in May, historically?
• Do Mexicans in Mexico also celebrate it, or is it just an U.S. excuse to drink lots of tequila?
• How did Cinco become so big in the U.S.?
• Is it like St. Patrick’s Day, when everyone is extended a strong Mexican abrazo for el día?
• And what comidas and bebidas should we make to keep Cinco de Mayo authentic?

Glad you asked. We partnered with BELatina and asked its editor in chief Guisell Gómez to report on the history of this U.S. celebration of Mexico and how it all started. Read on.

The History of Cinco de Mayo

”Ah, Cinco de Mayo — the holiday that’s as authentic as a $5 sombrero from the dollar store. Yet, amidst the sea of cheap margarita mix and tacky sombreros, there’s a tale of valor and defiance that often gets drowned out by the clinking of beer bottles. So, in a Cinco editorial partnership between BELatina and Familia Kitchen, we’re here to peel back the layers of this made-up holiday — complete with authentic recipes straight from the heart of Mexico,” writes Guisell.

”Let’s rewind a bit. Back in the 1980s, Anheuser-Busch and Miller Company saw an opportunity to tap into the Latino market by slapping sombreros on their ads and shouting “¡Salud!” Cue the birth of Cinco de Mayo as we know it today — a marketing ploy disguised as a cultural celebration.”

”Fast forward to 2009, and beer companies were dropping more cash on Spanish-language ads than most people spend on rent in a lifetime. According to Business Insider, these companies spent $171-million bucks on Spanish language advertising that year. This, however, led to a drunken mess – pero quien los manda,” Guisell continues.

“But let’s not forget the real reason behind Cinco de Mayo. It’s not just about the discounted prices of tacos on Cinco de Mayo weekend — although that’s certainly part of the fun. No, it’s about commemorating the unlikely victory of the Mexican army over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.”

“Led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, these underdogs proved that with enough grit and determination, anything is possible – even taking down a military powerhouse like France. And while the victory may have been short-lived, its legacy lives on as a symbol of Mexican resilience and defiance against foreign invaders.”

You can find Guisell’s full writeup here, and it’s worth the full read. Gracias, Guisell.

Now That You Know Your History, Let the Cinco Fiesta Begin

Now that you know why we’re celebrating, what should you drink and eat in Mexico’s honor? We dig into that, too. Below are our Familia Kitchen community’s 20 top-rated and recommended Cinco de Mayo family recipes, ready to be made and served to your family and friends.

To toast the Mexicans’ fight for their country, authentically, let’s start with a drink. Here are 5 classic cocktail recommendations from our community of homecooks.

Los Drinks of Cinco de Mayo: 5 Cocktails

A plato of traditional Mexican comida goes best with a Mexican beer and/or anything with tequila, like one of these below three margaritas or the refreshing paloma.

1. The Classic Margarita — From Our Tequila Expert MariCarmen

Alcoholic Lime Margarita with Tequila and Sea Salt
MariCarmen’s Classic Margarita with Triple Sec is our Familia Kitchen go-to.

We love margaritas here at Familia Kitchen, so por favor trust us when we tell you this is a guaranteed-great receta for a classic and easy-to-make margarita from our favorite Catadora, MariCarmen Ortíz Conway, a globally renowned tequila expert. And we mean expert, as in certified Tequila Expert,™ a certification from the Cultura y Capacitación del Tequila, A.C. “This is a VERY successful margarita,” says MariCarmen. “Always.”

2. Mezcal Margarita With Cucumber and Jalapeño

“I love mezcal in my margarita,” says Ana González Quaid, Familia Kitchen co-founder. “It gives the margarita this incredible smoky depth and a lot more oomph. I love the flavor of mezcal.” Same here. We are big fans of her recipe here at Familia Kitchen. Check it out for yourself to taste why.

3. Easy and Amazing Margarita

margarita tequila

This margarita is another guaranteed-great drink from our favorite tequila connoisseur MariCarmen Ortiz Conway. This one is extra easy because it skips the simple sugar and uses one surprising ingredient: frozen limeade. Familia Kitchen tequila expert MariCarmen promises your guests will love this margarita, which whips up in 5 minutes. Easy and delicioso, our favorite combo. Find the full recipe here.

4. La Paloma Perfecta

MariCarmen’s classic paloma is a sparkling, refreshing drink with tequila blanco and grapefruit.

Paloma means dove in español, beautifully capturing the sparkling lightness of this grapefruit and tequila cocktail, another favorite here at Familia Kitchen. “The paloma is a thirst-quenching tequila cocktail that’s very easy to mix and serve. A favorite drink from Mexico, it is equally popular worldwide and one of the best ways to show off a great tequila,” writes MariCarmen of her must-try recipe.

5. Naihomy’s Healthy Margarita — No Simple Sugar

margarita healthy
Naihomy’s Healthy & Delicioso makeover of the margarita keeps things natural and lower calorie.

Familia Kitchen Healthy & Delicioso editor Naihomy Jerez ditched simple syrup and Triple Sec and went back to the margarita essentials for natural flavor: fresh lime and orange juice. Add your favorite tequila and a dash of sparkling water and you’ve got yourself a bebida that’s good and good for you in this saludable margarita.

La Comida of Cinco de Mayo: 7 STARTERS

It all depends where you are. On the menu at classic Cinco celebrations in Puebla, Mexico—where General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the French army in 1862—are traditional dishes, like mole poblano and chicken tinga. In the States, we tend to gravitate to Mexican dishes that traditional and accessible like guacamole. Here are several favorite family guac recipes sent to us by the Familia Kitchen community.

1. Angie’s Family-Famous Guacamole: Our Favorite

guacamole Anjie

This is el famoso guacamole that one of our favorite Mexican-food cocineras Anjie Villalobos brings to every get-together and makes for family (and herself: she is its biggest fan, she says) once a week, at least. Ever the recipe tinkerer, Anjie experimented with the dish’s shortlist of essential ingredients — avocado, chile, tomato, onion, lime, cilantro — until she arrived at the guac that hits all her favorite flavor profiles. It has since become her family’s official guacamole.

2. Guacamole Crostini With Onion and Bacon Jam

Guacamole crostini is a go-to for entertaining in the Arizona home of Michelle Ezratty Murphy, one of our favorite homecooks. ”We just love guacamole in my house,” she says. ”For this recipe, I kept the guacamole itself simple and then paired it with a sweet caramelized onion and bacon jam, served on lightly toasted baguette slices. In each bite, you get the fresh citrusy flavor from the guacamole, a hint of smokiness from the bacon, the sweetness of the caramelized onion, and a light crunch from the toasted bread.” Check out her neighborhood-famous recipe here.

3. Seven Layer Dip, the Tex-Mex Classic, with a Bonus: Taco Beef!

7 Layer Dip

This 7 layer dip is a crazy-good Tex-Mex favorite that Michelle Ezratty Murphy of Phoenix brings to Super Bowl, Cinco de Mayo and other fiestas. Her delicioso recipe is stacked with the classic seven, of course, and then she takes things to the next level of delicioso with 1 extra ingredient. It’s hearty, it’s filling, it’s carne! Michelle adds a bonus row of ground beef, seasoned with her own mix of chile powders and spices. ”The taco beef takes this dish from appetizer to meal in a minute. The flavor of the cumin and chili powder add to the already delicious flavors,” she explains.

4. Salsa Verde for Your Favorite Tacos

This salsa verde is the favorite family recipe of one of our go-to (and youngest) abuela cocineras, Anjie Villalobos. She uses tomatillos and a combination of serrano and/or jalapeños chiles. This fragrant green sauce goes with just about everything, deliciously. Check out her recipe here!

5. Vivi’s Red Salsa Molcajete

Making red salsa molcajete is a calming food ritual for Vivi Abeja, one of our favorite Mexican cooks. ”On the days when I have a little extra time and I am able to be very intentional with the way that I make this salsa roja, I use the molcajete,” she says, just liker her Abuelita taught her. ”I love it. It makes me so happy.” Check out her recipe here.

6. Because You’ll Need Chips for Those Dips: Make Totopos

totopos tortilla chips
Mexican totopos take your guacamole and salsa to the next level.

The Main Meals of Cinco de Mayo: 6 DISHES

1. Slow-Cooked Beef Barbacoa Tacos

These savory beef tacos are slow-roasted for maximum flavor and time spent with your Cinco guests. These beef barbacoa street tacos were sent into Familia Kitchen by one of our favorite Latina comida homecooks, Michelle Ezratty Murphy. “The best street taco barbacoa has the distinct flavor of cumin, in my opinion. And because it has been slow cooked for hours, the beef also takes on this unbelievably rich, deep, smoky, almost coffee-like flavor. That’s what I was going for: real-deal street taco sabor,” she tells Familia Kitchen.

2. Red Queso Enchiladas to Make Your Cinco Soar

Vivi enchiladas queso cheese onion

Red enchiladas are made only one way in Vivi Abeja’s family. Others may fill their enchiladas with slow-simmered chicken, beans, beef or vegetables. But in Vivi’s kitchen in Little Village, a traditionally Mexican neighborhood in Chicago, none of those delicioso options are even considered.

”I stick to Michoacan-style,” says Vivi. ”Crumbled queso fresco and chopped onion.” It’s a family tradition going back generations, and she’s proudly cooking it forward.

3. Enchiladas Suizas With Chicken and Roasted Poblano Chiles

These enchiladas suizas made with a creamy-cheesy salsa verde and filled with chicken and roasted poblanos are número 1 on our list of must-make dinners right now. Gracias to Vivi Abeja, one of our favorite Mexican cooks, for another simple and addictively delicioso traditional Mexican dish we can’t stop craving.

4. Baja-Style Fish Tacos with Tilapia, Pineapple and Chipotle Sauce

Is there anything más rico than the creamy taste of Baja-style fish tacos with caramelized pineapple? These Baja-style sauce-drizzled tilapia fish tacos are a hit in the home of MariCarmen Ortiz Conway of St Louis, Missouri. ”There are many ways to prepare Baja sauce for tacos,” she explains. “This is my way: I use Mexican mayo and add tomato puree for a great touch to the combination of flavors also including: pineapple, chipotle chile, and, por supuesto: the breaded pescado. I use tilapia, which is sweet, light and fresh-tasting and takes on the flavors of the chile and cilantro beautifully.”

5. The Chicken Tinga That Won One Family’s Mexican Tostada Cookoff

This chicken tinga tostada with poblanos and a touch of crema emerged as the clear winner at her family tostada cook-off, remembers Arianna Hermosillo of Chicago. Once all the votes were counted, one tostada topping by a newer member of the family, Arianna’s brother in law Jorge, was the clear ganador. Followed closely behind by her mother’s recipe, which came in as a top contender. Jorge’s winning approach? Abuela cooking, reports Arianna. Jorge made his creamy chicken tinga with poblano chiles with a recipe his mother, Francisca, concocted in her kitchen back in Mexico. ”He told us he brought her homemade sazón to the States and that when he cooks her recipes, it’s almost like having her here with him.“ Check out his recipe!

6. Carne Asada Quesadillas with Hatch Chiles & Queso

quesadillas Anjie carne asada

These carne asada quesadillas are a super-simple, reliable crowd-pleaser, says Anjie Villalobos, one of our favorite Mexican-food cooks. ”Quesadillas are the grilled cheese sandwich of the Mexican-food world. They’re what I make when I need to whip up something quick and easy, either as an appetizer or a main dish. Because quesas always deliver for this young abuela with three grandkids under age 8, they find their way to her table about twice a month. “I’ll just look in my fridge to see what I have and throw it into a quesadilla, with cheese. I usually have carne asada leftovers that I grilled for another dinner. That’s my favorite filling.”

7. For Vegetarians: Veronica’s Almost-Vegan Taco Bowl

Veronia's almost vegan taco bowl with jackfruit
Veronica’s taco bowl uses jackfruit instead of meat and packs on the sabor.

La Comida of Cinco de Mayo: 3 DESSERTS

A sweet treat at the end of your Cinco de Mayo feast sends everyone home full and happy. We offer three classic postre recipes that we received from one Mexican and two Puerto Rican cooks: margarita pie, churros and tres leches cake.

1. Maria’s Easy Margarita Pie With Tequila

Got 10 minutes? Make Maria’s margarita pie With tequila and then freeze overnight. The perfect cold treat to serve at your Cinco fiesta.

2. How to Make Churros, a Family Recipe from Edwin and Luna

Churros with Edwin and Luna

The churro is a doughnut-like treat, its flour dough golden-fried to crispy perfection. It’s usually long and thin, with crimped edges like the ones we’re used to seeing on crullers. Churros are served for dessert, breakfast or as a snack any time of day. Check out this recipe from two of our favorite homecooks, Edwin and Luna Barrera, of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

3. Tres Leches Cake, Possibly the Greatest Cake Ever Made

Leave out the coconut milk and the rum in this Puerto Rican version of tres leches and you have a classic tres leches cake made with spongecake and lots of milks: condensed, evaporated, and 2%. This is one of our all-time favorites postres here at Familia Kitchen and what we’ll be making for Cinco.

How did we do? Did we not incude your favorite Cinco de Mayo recipe?

Let’s fix that. You are officially invited to submit it to us at Familia Kitchen so that we can showcase your family-famous Mexican fiesta-worthy dishes.

For more Cinco de Mayo authentic inspiration for memorably great food and drink — btw, comida and bebida are our two favorite Spanish words (and they also rhyme, which, of course, we love) — take a spin through our Latino treasury of more Mexican families’ favorite homecooking recipes at

Find more Cinco de Mayo recipe inspiration here!

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