Cheap Eats: Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo, in the back of a shop in Little Italy, offers heaping portions of Mexican food

1312 Eastern Ave., (410) 522-7646

Wander all the way to the back of this tiny-but-packed first-floor shop, past the deli counter, vegetables, dried meats, and canned beans, to the restaurant—a small, light-brown tiled area with about 10 tables. The walls are sporadically decorated with colorful ceramic smiling suns, paintings of food and flowers, and kindergarten classroom-style cut-outs of guitars and maracas. The centerpiece to this ambience is definitely the delicate shrine for the Virgin Mary, which is actually built into the wall with a tile backsplash, complete with saint figurines and candles, a faux yellow rose trim, and a bubbling fountain. The menu, which, in addition to providing a 1,000-word summary in Spanish of the history of Mexico's victory over France on Cinco de Mayo, boasts a variety of standard dishes like quesadillas ($4.99-$7.50), sandwiches ($7.99-$10.50), burritos ($6.99-$7.99), tacos ($2.75-$3.19 each), and more. On my first visit I ordered the tacos al pastor, con chorizo, and the carne enchilada, and I enjoyed the subtle mixing of flavors as I moved from the pineapple-y al pastor to the spicy chorizo and succulent pork. On another visit I went for the chicken enchiladas ($11.99) with mole sauce, which was a bit too chocolatey for me—but then with the chicken, rice, avocado, and an artful drizzle of crema and crumbled cotija, it all came together in a delicious pool party of flavor. On both visits, my companions ordered the chicken burrito. One described it as "solid" and "sturdy" despite its heftiness; the other said the chicken was both "juicy and spiced really well"—and was really stoked that guac was included. We all took home leftovers. As I ate, I recalled a field trip my sixth grade Spanish teacher took us on, to a small tienda in the middle of a strip mall in a suburban Florida town where, all the way in the back, beyond the tightly-packed shelves of groceries and sundries, we feasted on authentic burritos, tacos, and huaraches. As a kid who'd been raised on Don Pablo's and Old El Paso dinner kits, it was cool to learn about—and appreciate—the real deal. (Rebekah Kirkman)

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