There’s no springtime party quite as festive and fun as a Cinco de Mayo bash. As a celebration of Mexican American culture and history, Cinco de Mayo is filled with color, music, delicious food and beverages, and tradition. When you incorporate it all with these creative ideas, you’ll be ready to throw a fiesta your amigos won’t soon forget.
Set the Cinco Scene
Cinco de Mayo is one of the most colorful holidays on the calendar. From the bright hues of traditional Mexican dresses to the symbolic red, white, and green of the flag, there’s plenty of inspiration to pull from for your party’s color scheme.
Papel picado, the brightly colored paper banners found throughout Mexico during celebrations such as Dia de Muertos, are a simple way to add some color while paying honor to Mexican traditions. String them up high above your patio – you can even get special sofa covers for the occasion – and create a colorful Cinco de Mayo canopy.
Table dressings, flatware, and drinkware present a world of possibilities for festive decoration. Make a trip to your local party store to pick up plates in the red, white, and green colors of the flag and margarita glasses in bright shades to match the papel picado banner. And if you happen to have a serape lying around, pull off your table covers and use it as a colorful tablecloth.
Let’s Taco Bout the Food Setup
To say that the menu should play a big part in your Cinco de Mayo celebration would be an understatement. Mexican American cuisine is beloved for its bold flavors and emphasis on fresh ingredients. And with the right recipes at your disposal, you don’t have to be a five star chef to pull off some seriously delicious Mexican dishes.
Tacos are perhaps the most beloved Mexican dish of all, and serving them to your guests has never been easier with the help of a DIY taco bar. You might want to leave the table covers on to keep your tables and chairs clean and make cleanup a snap. Just set up a long surface on your patio to house all the ingredients and you’ll be good to go.
Set the Bar
At the beginning of the bar, lay out plates and tortillas of both corn and flour varieties kept warm in a warming sleeve. Warm the tortillas by heating them quickly in a pan on the stove top and placing them in the warming sleeve. Have a couple pans going and in no time you’ll have a nice warm stack. Small tortillas are great for street tacos, toss in a few large ones for burrito loves.
Next comes protein, where you can offer anything and everything: chicken, beef, pork carnitas, shrimp, or even tofu. See below for a variety of recipes.
Last but not least is toppings. Including grilled veggies, diced tomatoes, diced onions, chopped jalapeños, shredded iceberg lettuce, shredded cheese, a selection of salsas, and enough guac to keep your whole party happy.
Still on the search for the perfect guacamole recipe to wow your guests? We’ve got you covered.
- 3 ripe avocados
- ½ yellow onion, diced
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 jalapeno pepper, diced and seeds removed
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lime, juiced
- ½ tsp sea salt
Slice your avocados in two and remove the pit. Add to the mixing bowl and mash with a fork to your desired consistency. Pour in the rest of your ingredients and stir until blended. Serve as a topping on your taco bar and with tortilla chips for a yummy appetizer.
Mad for Margs
What would Cinco de Mayo be without some festive libations? Fiestas and tequila beverages go hand in hand, and there’s no limit to the creative cocktails you can dream up with the help of drink mixers and fresh garnishes.
Getting creative with your cocktails means thinking outside the margarita mix, like with this sunrise marg recipe:
- 2 mangoes, chopped and peeled
- 1 cup fresh lime juice
- 1 cup orange juice
- ¾ cup peach nectar
- 1/2 -¾ cup sifted sugar, adjusted for taste
- 1 cup tequila
- 1 cup triple sec
Blend the mango and peach nectar together until puréed. Use a strainer to remove any fibers. Add mixture to pitcher with remaining ingredients and stir until blended. Serve over ice in glasses rimmed with a mixture of salt and sugar. Serves 4, double recipe if necessary.
Don’t limit your drink menu to just margaritas. There are many Mexican cervezas (beers) worthy of sampling at your fiesta, and you can whip up a batch of non-alcoholic horchata for the little ones to enjoy while you sip on your libations.
Say Hola to Activities
Of course, you’ll need to offer more than just delicious food and drink to keep your guests entertained. You don’t have to have a set-in-stone activities schedule, but planning some games and festivities ahead of your Cinco de Mayo celebration will ensure that nobody falls prey to boredom on the big day.
It’s crucial that your party activities cater to all ages, from kids to the kids at heart. One Cinco de Mayo game that will please everyone? The piñata. Piñatas are celebration staples throughout Mexico and Mexican American communities, and are a surefire way to get the party started.
- Have two piñatas at your Cinco celebration: one for the little ones, and one better suited for adult guests. A second piñata allows you to give the adults a more challenging target while keeping things easy for the kids.
- Half the fun of a piñata are the prizes hidden inside. Traditional Mexican candies are perfect for satisfying a child’s sweet tooth while exposing them to new cultural delights.
- For the adults, miniature hot sauces in plastic bottles will give your guests a hilarious surprise when the pinata bursts, and they can make use of them when indulging in the evening’s culinary offerings.
Dancing is another exciting activity that doesn’t require much on your part. Set up a makeshift dance floor on the patio by pushing your tables and furniture – protected from the shenanigans by custom covers, sofa covers, and grill covers – to the side. A playlist featuring a mix of salsa, mariachi, and Latin music is essential. Think Tito Puente. Tito can liven up any fiesta! You can even take it a step further by hiring a live Mariachi band to play for a truly authentic experience.
Taco Protein Recipes:
2.5 lbs peeled and deveined medium shrimp
Olive oil to coat
Juice of 3 Meyer lemons (regular lemons can substitute if Meyer lemons are not available)
½ cup cilantro
6 minced garlic cloves
2T mild chili powder
Crushed red pepper flakes (between 1/4t and 1t depending on how hot you want it)
1/4t white pepper
Combine the shrimp and all ingredients except olive oil in a large bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon until all the spices are evenly distributed. Drizzle olive oil slowly as you stir. Once the spice mixture turns into an even paste, stop drizzling the olive oil.
Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or leave covered at room temperature for a minimum of 1.5 hours. Skewer the shrimp and cook on the bbq. If you have the temperature set at medium, they will take 15-18 minutes to cook. Watch the center. As the shrimp turns white and approaches the center flip and do the same.
Once the shrimp’s center loses its translucency it’s done. Pull the shrimp off, scrape them off the skewer into a large bowl and they’re ready to serve.
Spicy Grilled Garlic Chicken
3 lbs chicken (whatever your favorite cut is; cut them into manageable size pieces to grill more quickly)
½ cup olive oil
Juice of 4 limes
3T chili powder (choose 3 different chili powders; different chilis bring different flavors)
½T hatch chili powder
6 cloves minced garlic
Mix all the ingredients, cover and marinate at least 4 hours in the fridge or at least 1.5 hours at room temperature. Simply grill the pieces until thoroughly cooked, let cool, then dice them into a bowl.
6 crushed garlic cloves
Juice 3 fresh limes
1/3 cup orange juice
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 jalapeño minced
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 pounds flank steak
4 cloves garlic crushed
2 limes juiced
2T soy sauce
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2t Kosher salt
1/4t fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 jalapeno minced
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 pounds flank steak
Combine all ingredients except the steak in a bowl and whisk until thoroughly mixed. Pour marinade into a Ziplock bag. Put steak in the bag and slowly push all the air out of the bag before zipping it shut. Marinate overnight (or at least 6 hours) in the fridge or at least 3 hours at room temperature. Occasionally turn the bag to re-mix the ingredients. This will give you a thorough marinade.
Remove steak and grill to medium rare. Remember, the steak will continue to cook and will be sitting on a taco bar, so don’t cook it more than medium rare or it will dry out. Slice it in even strips and put in your serving bowl.
Crispy Tex-Mex Tofu
1 lb tofu cubed
1C vegetable oil
2T olive oil
½ jalapeño, minced
1 fresh lime juiced
1 clove garlic minced
1T mild chili powder
Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Fry each piece of tofu, turning to make sure it is crispy on all sides. Place tofu on paper towels.
Mix all other ingredients in a bowl. Once all the tofu is fried, toss it in the spice and olive oil mixture and place it in a serving bowl.