Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner! It's obviously not a traditional American holiday, but over the years it has grown in popularity, bringing together different types of people to celebrate and enjoy Mexican culture. In preparation for this year's Cinco de Mayo, I thought I'd update my previous list of favorite Mexican joints in the South. Here we go! 5. Güero's Taco Bar- Austin TX
I've only been to Austin once in my life, but it made quite an impression. Luckily before I went, I got some helpful hints from a fellow grad student and Austin native. She pointed me in the right direction, and I ended up spending most of my time (outside of the National Preservation Conference) in SOCO (South Congress). After a long day of traveling, I had a hankering for a 'rita on the rocks. My friends and I headed down the street and found Güero's Taco Bar. Güero's is located in a former seed and feed store circa the late 1800s. Back in the day, it served as a neighborhood meeting place for all of South Austin's characters (picture dice games in the back room and bookies paying off bets on the front porch). As Austin experienced the development boom of the 70s and 80s, the SOCO neighborhood held onto its eclectic roots. In 1993 the owners of Güero's came along and rescued the abandoned feed and seed store, having outgrown their original taco stand. Their food hit the spot- homemade tortillas, salsa bar, lots of variety and the house margarita packed a punch!
Nestled in one of the many curves of Highland Avenue in Birmingham, Rojo is a lively bar and restaurant that's a favorite among locals, visitors, and apparently Bob Dylan (the rock legend gave a shout out to Rojo during his radio show on XM radio show). The location is also perfect, close to downtown and close to the burbs, so you never know who you'll run into. As one might expect the interior is decked in deep reds, dark wood and brick, and funky decor. Rojo also features lots of outdoor seating, perfect for people watching and enjoying the view of this gorgeous neighborhood. Their two sided menu is perfect for everyone in your party: one side features Latin fare and the other American favorites. My go to is the nachos (any topping) or the mahi mahi arugula tacos and house margarita on the rocks!
3. Sr. Sol- Athens, GA
When I first moved to Athens, my friend Libby (now experienced Athenian) introduced me to the legendary Sr. Sol. It's located next to a gas station on the west side of Athens, and looks slightly sketchy at first glance...but once inside, all of your fears will subside. Sr. Sol serves up some of the best Mexican food in Athens. There is something for everyone at Sr. Sol; lots of taco options, enchiladas, fajitas, sopes, the list goes on and on... Adventurous eaters wanting to channel their inner Anthony Bourdain are in luck here; they have tripe and beef tongue on the menu. I must say they're frozen house margaritas are awesome: ice cold, refreshing, good tequila kick, and plenty of salt!
2. Fat Mama's- Natchez, MS
Home of the "Knock You Naked" margarita, Fat Mama's is a laid back, neighborhood tamale stand in the heart of Natchez, Mississippi. Opening in the mid 1980s, on the iconic Natchez Trace, Fat Mama's became one of the favorite stops along the trace. After the National Park Service created the Natchez Trace National Park, Fat Mama's moved to their current location in downtown Natchez and were able to expand their menu adding new southwest inspired eats to accompany their famous margaritas and tamales. Their margaritas are dangerously good- frozen tangy lime concoctions with one hell of a kick! To top it off, the "knock you naked" ritas are served in NEON plastic cups, salt or no salt, and a firecracker drink swizzle- presentation is everything!
1. Bubba Garcias- St. Simons Island, GA
One of these had to be at the beach...Home of the $8,000 margarita, Bubba Garcias is a funky, tex-mex cantina located in Redfern Village and the sister restaurant to Gnat's Landing Bar and Grill on St. Simons Island. Since my family owns Gnat's and Bubba's, I'm obviously partially biased, but I can promise you that Bubba's serves up authentic Mexican plates along with some new favorites with a Southern spin. My go-to when I'm home are the Cali Club tacos- fried chicken fingers, bacon, tomatoes, spinach, guacamole, and chipotle cream...add a splash of hot sauce and enjoy!
The margaritas are just as unique as the food. While my parents were building Gnat's (late 1990s) my stepfather, Robert "Boz" Bostock, was bartending at the popular loggia bar on Sea Island. I recently asked him to retell me the story of the $8,000 margarita so here it is..."One day a group of 8 guys bellied up to the bar and started asking (rather convincingly I might add, been on the golf course all day) for what they called the 8000 Dollar Margarita. They gave me the list of the ingredients, and I told them I'd do my best to reproduce their favorite margarita. It turns out they were from Texas and that earlier that year they decided to agree unanimously on the best margarita they ever had. They traveled across the border to cantina after cantina, tasting, getting recipes from locals, buying exotic tequilas, orange liqueurs, bizzare sour mixes and experiment with different proportions. After a few months, they finally agreed on a recipe; they then totaled all of their receipts from travel and ingredients and the total tab was (you guessed it) $8,000. I can honestly say this cocktail is VERY strong but sooo smooth; the beer seems to help blend everything together."
Wanna give it a try? Here are the ingredients in equal parts: Premium tequila (although some of the guys said they like Jose Cuervo just fine), Cointreau, Minute Maid lime aide concentrate (defrosted and undiluted), and beer (we use PBR or Dos Equis).
So that's my new and improved must visit spots for Cinco de Mayo! Bottom's up y'all...