Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the observance marks the anniversary of Mexico’s 1862 military victory over the French forces led by Napoleon III. According to people in the Ozarks, however, Cinco de Mayo is the unofficial start to summer where we trade the frozen winter for a frozen margarita and we don’t concern ourselves much with the history.
This annual quest for fun is celebrated regardless of the weather, and for that matter, the backstory. Ozarkers are a hearty bunch, as are our brothers and sisters south of the border. We don’t care if it’s sunny or stormy, we’ll adapt accordingly to make a party happen. And celebrating Mexican heritage seems to have gotten easier due to the proliferation of authentic Mexican restaurants in all directions.
As a matter of fact, we’ve simply lost count. Springfield and the surrounding areas clock in with, well, loads of Mexican-themed dining establishments and we’re more than okay with that. The days of the typical Tex-Mex tacos, burritos, and enchiladas that most of us grew up with have given way to authentic and over-the-top creative Mexican fare that leaves our mouths watering just thinking about it.
We all have our go-to Mexican favorites, but we want to take the opportunity to point out a few places we think might change the way you think about south-of-the-border cuisine.
Tacos el Gordo
#1 – 1510 N. National, Springfield
#2 – 5360 S. Campbell, Springfield
My oh my, this one is tailor-made for social media, is it not? The Machete from Tacos el Gordo is a king-size masterpiece that’s as much fun to devour as it is to photograph.
The Machete is a little like a quesadilla but made with a thicker wrap that’s akin to that of a pupusa. This monster is about two feet long, and you can customize it according to taste. Barbacoa, carne asada, al pastor, beef, chicken, chorizo, birria… Pick three and let the cooks do the rest. From there it’s filled with Oaxaca cheese and served up piping hot, melty, and crispy with an array of dipping sauces and plenty to share between two to three people.
Our pal Billy Dove, a.k.a. 417 Foodist, likes his with a big ‘ol mug of house-made Atole, which is a Mayan hot corn sweet drink with milk and cinnamon. It doesn’t get much more authentic than that.
Note: According to their web and social media, a food truck is on the way so our day just keeps getting better.
Speaking of Pupusas…
Cesar’s Old Mexico
2627 E. Sunshine, Springfield
Tacos el Gordo has ‘em, and we’ll take a good pupusa anytime we can get one. But we are partial to the ones at Cesar’s Old Mexico, maybe because it’s where we experienced our first bite. The Salvadoran cornmeal flatbread is stuffed with cheese, beans and cheese, or pork, beans, and cheese. You owe it to yourself to get one of each, trust us.
Oh, and you can upgrade to So-Pusas if you so choose. This, according to the menu, is where Salvadoran meets Mexican. These babies are topped with your choice of chicken, asada, lettuce, cotija cheese, sour cream, and ranchero sauce. Pair a plate of these with one of their mind-blowing margaritas and you’ll have a Cinco de Mayo to remember!
And speaking of Margaritas…
3375 Little Pete’s Road, Branson
Little Hacienda in Branson and Hollister will not only blow your mind with their margaritas, but they just might also make you cry happy tears. We dare you to watch the waiter approach with one of those glorious Margarita Flight trays and not get more than a little emotional.
Little Hacienda has been serving up authentic Mexican for 17 years, and, for folks in Springfield, it may be the best Mexican cuisine they’ve never had. Fidel Gomez has a way with food and manages to make each and every plate and glass look like a work of art.
The margarita menu is extensive, and the flight gives you the opportunity to try nearly every flavor your heart desires! From cucumber to mango to strawberry and blue curacao, these drinks are a treat for the taste buds and the eyes. Each one comes beautifully dressed with rimming salts, sugars, spices, dried fruits, and even fresh flowers. The best part? They’re available every single day, so you can celebrate Cinco de Mayo any time you want to. Sure, it might be a bit of a drive for the Queen City folks to get down there but it’s more than worth the trip. And if you really choose to indulge, treat yourself to a nearby hotel room and enjoy the Saturday or Sunday brunch before you head back home.
1602 E. Kearney, Springfield
Housed inside an unassuming food truck on Kearney Street lies one of the most delectable dishes you’ll find anywhere. Birria is truly a gift from the gods, and the folks at Tuka Tacos take it far beyond a taco.
Birria is essentially a meat stew. Typically beef, lamb, or chicken, the meat is marinated in an adobo made of vinegar, dried chiles, garlic, and herbs and slowly cooked in a broth. Tortillas are dipped in the stew to soak up flavor and fat, then heated up on the griddle. Tuck in the meat, some cheese (often called quesabirria), crisp it up to order, and you’ve got a plate full of magic. These are served with a nice bowl of the original stew loaded with onion, cilantro, and lime for dipping and the experience is downright magical.
You can find birria on several menus around the Ozarks, but we give special kudos to Tuka Tacos due to their willingness to take birria a few steps further. They also do a Birria Pizza, Birria Quesadilla and Birria Torta. It’s indulgent and addictive, and worth a trip to the north side of town as soon as you can get there.
Seriously, we’re blessed here in the Ozarks with some truly incredible Mexican cuisine. We’re also blessed that Spring has sprung and the weather will only get warmer from here. So grab some friends, go find a patio, dining room, or parking lot and enjoy a delicious celebration of Mexico. Besides, just think of the siesta you’ll enjoy later.
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