On May 5, 1862, General Ignacio Zaragoza and his troops faced off against an invading French army in the Mexican town of Puebla de Los Angeles. The outnumbered Mexican army won a shocking victory, inspiring resistance efforts that eventually led to France’s withdrawal from the country. Today, Cinco de Mayo remains a local celebration in the state of Puebla, where mock military battles and parades commemorate the victory.
Although it’s not a countrywide holiday in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo has taken on a new life as a celebration of Mexican heritage in the United States. Beyond parties and drink specials, the holiday is an opportunity to support some of the most unique Mexican restaurants in North America, many of which are hiding in plain sight.
From an auto shop that slings Mexico City’s best al pastor tacos to a Brooklyn-bodega backroom offering hearty guisado amidst wall-to-wall taxidermy, here are 11 small, scrappy Mexican restaurants that, in the spirit of Cinco de Mayo, punch way above their weight.