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The Real History of Cinco de Mayo (And 5 Mexican Restaurants to Support in New York City)

By Sandy Wilson, Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Sales and Leasing for our Brown Harris Stevens' Riverdale and Harlem offices.

As we get close to the date, let me first dispel the popular misconception that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day. It is not. Mexico’s Independence Day occurs on September 16 and is an official national holiday in Mexico, while Cinco de Mayo is a special day that commemorates the Mexican victory over France in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

Though Cinco de Mayo has been popularized in the U.S. as a celebratory annual event spent drinking margaritas and eating guacamole, the date has a fascinating history worth exploring.

What You Need to Know About the History of Cinco de Mayo

The epic victory commemorated on Cinco de Mayo was of “David and Goliath” proportions and considered a great one for the underdog Mexican army. To give context, at that time, Mexico was divided into two seats of power: one in Mexico City led by Félix Zuloaga, and one in Veracruz led by Benito Juárez. Given the division of these two opposing groups, the Mexican army was expected to be mired in disarray and dysfunction in the face of French forces.

France, on the other hand, was a military powerhouse whose army was led by Emperor Napoleon III. The French army was well-trained and possessed weapons including rifles and canons, causing the side to expect a victory over Mexican forces. This overconfidence led to a lack in preparation for battle.

The Mexican army, however, remained undeterred and fought with their heart and soul. The victory at Puebla demonstrated the Mexicans' strength, resilience, and will to overcome all obstacles.

France went on to win the war by sending over 30,000 more troops to Mexico and bombarding the country. Eventually, Puebla fell as did Mexico City. However, the occupation by France was short-lived, ending two years later.

Now that you know the real history of Cinco de Mayo, celebrate Mexican resilience and strength by supporting one of these Mexican restaurants in New York City.

Where to Dine on Cinco de Mayo

1618 Amsterdam Ave

This delightful restaurant is in the Hamilton Heights section of West Harlem. The establishment, which was featured on Michelin's Best Restaurants in Manhattan list, offers great authentic food and terrific service.

185 St. Nicholas Ave

A friendly eatery in Harlem, La Diagonal specializes in agave spirits, tequilas, mezcals, and other Mexican-inspired spirits. Plus, the food is great!

510 Madison Ave

Expect a sophisticated Midtown vibe and an upscale environment at Empellon, which serves up delicious Mexican-inspired dishes with a fresh farm-to-table seasonality.

5-48th Ave

Chef Cosme Aguilar shows off his flair and brings authentic cuisine from the regions of Puebla and Chiapas at Casa Enrique, located in Long Island City.

35 E 21 St.

Cosme, a Flatiron restaurant, is a favorite for locals, sought out by those who love Mexican cuisine and the freshness of ingredients sourced locally in the Hudson Valley.

I hope you have a terrific Cinco de Mayo. ¡Viva México!

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