Must-Haves for Your Tacky American Cinco de Mayo Celebration

Food Lists

Many Americans love to celebrate Cinco de Mayo every year. Even though we’re not Mexican and actually have no idea what the holiday is actually about. Still, it’s a great excuse to get discounted margaritas and tequila shots at our local taco joint.

There’s a lot of misinformation about Cinco de Mayo. It is not Mexican Independence Day (that’s in September), but actually celebrates the day that the Mexican army beat the French army, against all odds. So we drink! At least we do here. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo events are more about commemorating history, while in America it’s become a cheesy excuse to party.

But, well, we’re into it, and our attraction to the holiday stems from a heartfelt affection for Mexican culture. We can go authentic—or we can just have a really good time. Here’s must-haves for your own tacky American Cinco de Mayo celebration!

A piñata
Go for ultimate cheese factor with a classic piñata filled with candy.

If you can’t find one, ditch the piñata and keep the candy, in a buffet! “A Cinco de Mayo candy buffet should be colorful and festive with a variety of candy that suits the ‘fiesta’ theme to a tee,” says Lauren Bialek-Sachs, owner of Sweet City Candy. “Hot Tamales and gummy Mexican Fiesta Hats are must-haves because they are so well-suited for this celebration. We also highly recommend including some flavorful margarita, piña colada key lime candy cordials—not only are they in bright colors, but also the exotic drink flavors will be a big hit at the party. And finally, brightly colored Sixlets and gumballs can fill in the gaps of your sweets table and reinforce the yellow, green and red colors that are typical for a Cinco de Mayo party.”

Go nuts
As in, bowls of nuts with over-the-top Mexican themes. For example, Planters now has Chili Lime Peanuts or fiery Chipotle Peanuts. Both pair well with margaritas and sombreros. Another spicy, nutty option is Blue Diamond Growers’ Jalapeño Smokehouse Almonds. The more salty nuts your guests enjoy, the more they will drink! Score! (And cheers.)

Chips and salsa
In Mexico, you are likely to find fresh, delicious homemade chips. In America, we do the best we can—i.e. get a bag that looks like it. Tostitos Cantina Traditional tortilla chips are hearty yellow corn chips that will work great with whatever queso, guacamole, or salsa ends up on your table. Go more authentic with Mexican-born Cabo Chips, which are cut from real corn tortillas, not extruded, for a true cantina-style (and whole grain) tortilla chip. Plus, they come in fun flavors like Mango Chili Lime and Churro. (Yes, churro!)

Salsa can be found in endless forms at your supermarket, but this fresh tomatillo salsa recipe is a sure crowd-pleaser.

Depending on the time and planning that goes into your party, you may just buy store-bought guacamole—any supermarket will have tons of varieties. But if you want to make your own, there’s so many ways you can go with it. Try out this Guac-Humm-Mole recipe —it’s a very Americanized spin, with prepared hummus and Greek yogurt to health up the dish. For a more traditional guacamole, go classic.

If you are looking for a healthier party, saving fat and calories isn’t really about the dip so much as the vehicle. “Guacamole is a must-have on your menu, however ditch the chips! Serve carrots, cucumbers and jicama (or your favorite veggies!) instead for a delicious yet healthy alternative,” says Mexican chef and restaurateur Julian Medina.

Tacos are incredibly easy to make, and a must for your party. Spread out your favorite fillings and create a make-your-own taco station. This recipe for chipotle adobe tilapia tacos could be a good start.

If making your own tacos, the sky is the limit. For healthier spins, “When serving tacos, opt for fresh grilled fish or chicken as your meat,” says Medina. “Keep it authentic and light by topping your taco with a pico de gallo mixture (red onion, cilantro, tomatoes, fresh lime juice, vinegar). Cheese and crema add too many calories, so opt for the pico de gallo mixture or just a dab of salsa,” says Medina.

Every boozy American celebration seems to involve some variety of wings. Give your wings a Mexican spin with these tequila-spiked chicken wings.

Cheese. Lots of cheese.
What better way to celebrate the cheesiness than with…cheese! Whether it be cheesy dips, tarts, nachos or small bites, anything with a good amount of cheese is a win in our books.

Whether it’s queso or a cheesy spinach dip featuring pepper Jack, Monterey Jack and sour cream, or this cheddar jalapeno dip.

Work more cheese into your bites with this Southwest-style quesadillas or addictive nacho abuelitos grilled cheese.

To go all out, try pimento cheese taco dip — it doesn’t get much cheesier than nachos and tacos! Just take cooked ground beef, mix it with taco seasoning, salsa and a tub of pimento cheese.

Many would argue this occasion is all about the tequila. While the margarita is Mexico’s flagship libation and tequila’s claim to fame, there are countless ways to enjoy the beautiful agave-based spirit.

If making your own, “Cocktails can definitely be slimmed down by making margaritas without the simple syrup,” says Madina. “Use fresh lime juice and light agave nectar for flavoring and half the calories.”

If you were in Mexico, you’d possibly be enjoying freshly mixed margaritas. At your Cinco de Mayo party, if you’re too time-pressed (or drunk) to find your shaker, just go for readymade. Sandra Lee’s Cocktail Time Margaritas in Key Lime and Strawberry are infused with real key limes and strawberries, pure cane sugar, premium blue agave silver tequila, triple sec liqueur and other natural flavors. Mix with sparkling wine and some fresh fruit and you have sangria for your festivities as well!

Looking for more margarita ideas? Check out this recipe for three riffs on the drink: beet margarita, yuzu & Thai chili, and pear & ginger.

And, well, more booze.
A cheesy American Cinco de Mayo party is just as much about the booze as about the chips and salsa. Feel like something other than margaritas? Stock up on your favorite Mexican beer and add lemon vodka for a cerveza shandy the mix. Just mix 2 ounces of lemon vodka with 12 ounces of beer and serve. Deep Eddy Vodka is an Austin-based vodka company, so use its Lemon Vodka in your vodka limon shandy for a great blend of American and Mexican culture.

A Mariachi band
No American Cinco De Mayo party is complete without a mariachi band! If you opt not to book a live mariachi band for your Cinco celebration, there’s always a mariachi playlist on Spotify.

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