Going out for happy hour in St. Louis Park, it’s very likely you and your coworkers will bring up Rojo Mexican Grill at the West End. “We’re known for our great margaritas and awesome happy hour, and our patio in the summer is top-notch,” manager Matt Linse says. But if you’re a true fan, you will also know them for their biggest bash of the year, Cinco de Mayo.
The St. Louis Park location is the flagship restaurant of its three metro locations. Linse says they’ve been there for almost seven years, each year throwing a party loaded with specials for the fifth of May. “The first couple Cinco de Mayos we kind of built up steam, so to speak,” he says. “People don’t necessarily plan ahead for Cinco de Mayo like they do for St. Paddy’s or something like that; that was kind of our goal,” he says—to make West End the spot for Cinco de Mayo, like Saint Paul is the spot for St. Patrick’s Day.
So far, it’s working. Last year over 4,000 people attended the block party.
The festivities start right when the restaurant opens, usually around 10 or 10:30 a.m., and continue until around midnight. “We block off the entire street from the movie theater to Crave,” Linse says. The first 100 guests receive party packs that in the past have included shirts, bottle openers and more as an incentive to an early start. And the street is packed with activities, food and beverages. Outdoor bars serve Mexican beer, tequila and, of course, margaritas, about which, Linse says, “You see one go out and it just makes you want to order one. They’re contagious that way.”
Of course, food helps soak up some of that tequila, and there are several options to choose from. The Rojo food truck might be set up in the street, or you can head over to the restaurant, which extends its food service into the street for the day. Always popular are the street tacos for easy eating while walking around—or pulling up to one of the many patio tables. If you don’t want to, or can’t, stand all day, there’s plenty of seating.
Guests may come for the food and drink, but like any good party, there’s far more offered: giveaways, prizes, music and yard games. Play a game of bags with your friends, and the winners might just get a prize. (Tequila bottles and gift cards have been prizes in the past.) Live music keeps the party going nearly every year. Past performers have included local musician Tim Mahoney, from NBC’s The Voice. A partnership with GO 96.3 radio also has radio personalities broadcasting live.
“It’s basically just a huge party,” Linse says. And this party won’t be getting rained out or cancelled due to cold. “If it looks like it’s going to rain, we’ll have tents covering the whole street,” he says. If it’s cold out, they put heaters in the tents.
The event is free to everyone; the goal being to bring people together for a fun spring day. And since Cinco de Mayo falls on a Friday, it becomes a fun spring weekend with specials continuing into Saturday.
That means if you don’t get a photo with a cutout of the world’s most interesting man (the Dos Equis guy) on Friday, hope is not lost.
While the specials are the draw, Linse says, “the focal point is really crushing margaritas and having a blast.”
3 Fast Facts about Cinco de Mayo
Courtesy of history.com
1. Cinco de Mayo (“Fifth of May”) commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. The Mexican fighters prepared for an assault, outnumbered 3 to 1 by the French forces. The battle lasted through the day, until the French retreated that night. The Mexican army celebrated a shocking victory that helped ignite the resistance movement.
2. While Cinco de Mayo in Mexico is mainly celebrated in the town of Puebla, in the United States it has become a larger celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. Each year, Mexican-American communities across the country hold parades and parties where you can find mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing and traditional Mexican food.
3. Because of the level of attention the holiday garners in the States, Americans often confuse Cinco de Mayo with Mexican Independence Day, which was actually declared 50 years before the Battle of Puebla and is observed September 16. Cinco de Mayo rose to fame after Latin-Americans living in post-Civil War America revived it and made it into a larger celebration of Mexican culture.
Celebrating Cinco de Mayo doesn’t have to mean heading to a party. For those who aren’t feeling the big bash, there are several Mexican restaurants in town that offer take-out so you can celebrate in the comfort of your own home.
Cinco de Mayo is easily the busiest day of the year for Baja Sol, manager Tim Jurek says. And most of that is driven by their catering business. “There have been times at St. Louis Park where I had 60 [food] bars we had to get prepared and out the door by noon,” he says. Their taco and fajita bars are their most popular, with options of ground beef, chicken or steak. “It’s a lot of fun for the office party,” Jurek says.
If you’re coming in to pick up an order for home, the fresh-made tortillas and salsas are a point of pride for Baja Sol. “We make nine salsas every single day, fresh,” Jurek says. “We chop, dice, purée every day.” The tortillas are cooked on-site, and warm tortilla chips top off the freshness.
If you’re weren’t looking, you might have missed this authentic Mexican restaurant. Recently relocated to a larger building, Nacho’s is owned by Ignacio, Erika and Cecilia Estrada Rosales, siblings who are sharing their family recipes, says catering manager Steve Schmidt.
Schmidt won’t tell you what to order, but he will say they sell a lot of enchiladas, as well as a full-pound burrito. If you want to step outside tacos, go for the torta. “It’s like a Mexican hamburger,” Schmidt says.
You can grab your food to-go here, or stay and enjoy a drink at the new bar and take an hour or so to escape Minnesota’s spring and dream you’re in Mexico.