Tacos, torta and tequila | Food
Three must-try Mexican restaurants for Cinco de Mayo
By Geri Dietze | April 30, 2022
Mexican cuisine was the first to be named a heritage cuisine, in 2010, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Some of this amazing food has made its way north, and in honor of Cinco de Mayo, we’ve highlighted some of the local restaurants serving up your tacos, burritos, and more.
OSORIO TACOS AND SALSAS (WILLIAMSBURG)
Miguel Osorio is a country boy from the mountainous southern state of Oaxaca. His wife, Karla, is from North Baja. Together they fused traditions, ingredients and methods from their shared histories to flavorful effect. The North is all about olives, vineyards, and seafood from the Pacific and Sea of Cortez. The south is an Eden of organic fruits and vegetables, as well as cultivated plants that make the region the basis of Mexican dishes: herbs, greens and peppers; small tender-skinned avocados with tasty leaves; and 25 varieties of beans. (Miguel says beans thrive in Oaxacan soil.)
The Oaxaca hotline
So what is the Osorio difference? Demand the best, freshest and most authentic ingredients, and respect tradition. Just as Miguel learned about food working on his mother’s and grandmother’s farms, today his nephew Salvador, the chef of Osorio, keeps in touch with his own mother and grandmother in Oaxaca to check the recipes.
The heat is on
Osorio’s No. 1 favorite is Alambre, the meat-lover’s dish: steak, chicken, bacon, chorizo and pork, plus fresh vegetables, all grilled to give that warm, smoky finish that’s a another signing from Oaxaca. It’s a dish for the American palate — and big enough for two meals — but “raised by any level of heat,” says Miguel.
Speaking of heat, Miguel and Karla Osorio create a selection of salsas – up to a dozen varieties in the summer – with fresh-picked flavor from a blend of defining ingredients, from mild Salsa Cremosa made with hot avocado Salsa Primitiva, an old family recipe made with roasted peppers. A salsa bar allows the uninitiated to choose their favorites.
6037 US-31, Williamsburg | 231-938-9144 | osoriotacosysalsas.com
MI VALLARTA (GAYLORD)
Gaylord’s MI Vallarta expanded on the idea of street food, taking a full range of authentic Mexican foods — mostly from scratch — but processing them in a kitchen that’s paced to move orders, from tacos to 2 minute fish to 4 minute wet burrito. MI Vallarta combines Americans’ love for real Mexican cuisine with our penchant for all things drive-thru. Talk about a cultural exchange!
The real deal, real quick
Chef Emmanuel Poggi explains that in Mexico, tacos are eaten on the street, while, say, a burrito is eaten at home. But at MI Vallarta, it’s all a mobile feast. Owner Cesar Umbral is from Jalisco in west-central Mexico, and regional menu items include Sopes (pronounced soh-pez), a thick corn cake used as a base for meat, beans, tomatoes and the lettuce; and Torta, a Mexican sandwich — called a Mexican panini on the menu — a bun filled with beans, meat, and vegetables, including avocados, peppers, tomatoes, and onions. (Jalisco is iconic Mexico: mariachis, wide-brimmed sombreros, tequila, Mexican hat dancing, and dresses with wide ribbon skirts all originated there.)
MI Vallarta’s biggest sellers are the Sopes and the Wet California Burrito, the Americanized twist on meat and fries said to stem from the demands of hungover surfers in San Diego.
But fast service doesn’t mean you can’t linger in MI Vallarta’s large, colorful dining room. It’s a great place to enjoy a family dinner without having to worry about impatient youngsters. (Kids will find plenty to like: chicken tenderloin tacos, mac and cheese quesadillas.)
more to love
Cesar Umbral has expanded downtown, opening El Patron Grill in the former home of the Sugar Bowl, the iconic Gaylord restaurant that closed, after 100 years, due to COVID. El Patron’s extensive menu is fresh, made from scratch and true to traditional recipes. (Oh, and just in case you were wondering, El Patron has a walk-through window.)
1006 Main Street West, Gaylord | (989) 448 2381 | mivallartarestaurant.com
THE CANTEEN (CHARLEVOIX)
La Cantina, a Mexican cafe and tequila bar tucked away in a repurposed Charlevoix alley, would fit comfortably into any village south of the border. It’s bright and inviting, with cozy indoor spaces and an enclosed outdoor patio — complete with a fire pit — under strings of twinkling lights. The place is extremely popular. “We have queues all summer long,” says front desk manager Angie Sutherland.
La Cantina has a farm-to-table mindset, with a deep commitment to sourcing produce and produce from Northern Michigan, but is also inspired by the traditions and spirit of the Pacific Northwest. . Recipes date back generations, but change to reflect seasonal ingredient cycles. In other words, it’s fresh, simply prepared food that’s both sustainable and satisfying.
Among the street tacos, the favorite is the Original Baja Fish taco: Corona breaded Pacific cod with lime cream. Other choices include Carnitas (slow-cooked Mexican-style pulled pork) and Barbacoa (overnight braised beef). Chicken and ground beef tacos round out the selection. Vegetarians will enjoy the Crispy Potato Taco, made with Yukon Gold potatoes, pickled fennel, creamed avocado and charred grapefruit relish. Fresh salsas, queso, and guacamole with fries are big sellers, and five-cheese quesadilla and chicken nachos round out the menu.
La Cantina serves a variety of margaritas with a homemade blend, but for the aficionado, or anyone aspiring to become one, a true history of tequila is displayed in the bottles that line the back bar. Some brands may be suitable for salt and lime shooters, but others, small-batch and artisanal, should be served neat and sipped like one would enjoy a fine whiskey or scotch. Try a flight to savor the differences of this highly regarded and tightly regulated spirit. “We have flights for every palette and every price range,” says Sutherland.
101 Place Van Pelt, Charlevoix | 231-437-3612 | cantinecharlevoix.com
Cinco de Mayo, May 5, is not the Mexican version of our July 4; in fact, it’s not even a federal holiday. For the skinny ones, read on…
In 1861, Mexico, bankrupted by the Mexican-American War, declared a temporary suspension of debt payments to European creditors, including France. Napoleon III saw it as an opportunity to install a French puppet government and to support the American Confederacy by exchanging arms for cotton. In 1862, expecting an easy victory, 6,000 elite French forces, apparently packing with their equipment, engaged 2,000 Mexican soldiers and irregulars at the Battle of Puebla, 130 km southeast of Mexico City. In the evening, Napoleon’s guys were beaten soundly. (Today we call this imperial overrun.)
The first Cinco de Mayo celebration did not actually take place in Mexico but in Los Angeles, in 1863, among Mexicans who had settled in California during the gold rush. Today, celebrations in Mexico are regional, with military commemorations with re-enactments of battles. Here in the United States, some mark the day with a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage while others lean towards Mexican food and drink. Lots of drink. Some say the adoption of Cinco de Mayo by Americans is the result of shrewd marketing by Mexican beer makers. Rings about right: Alcohol.org poll names Cinco de Mayo ‘fifth booziest party’ in the US