The Top 5 Mexican Things New Yorkers Love — And Why That’s Not the Whole Story

Written by Edil Cuepo

Did you take part in one of Cinco de Mayo’s festivities last week? If you aren’t Mexican, you probably think Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s independence day. (I totally had it wrong all this time.) According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Cinco de Mayo is actually in remembrance of the surprising victory of the 4,000 outnumbered Mexicans over the undefeated French troops at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 — it was like David against Goliath. Although Cinco de Mayo is not widely memorialized in Mexico, as the Latino population grew in America, modern, persuasive marketers in the 1980s successfully taught Americans to observe this “special holiday” (aka Cinco de Drinko) by celebrating select parts of Mexican food, culture and music.

So, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to take out your (imaginary) sombreros and piñatas to commemorate the top five Mexican things New Yorkers love — and then find out why there’s so much more to incorporate into this cultural celebration.

  1. Tacos, quesadillas, tortillas, burritos, rice and beans. Hungry yet? Burp. According to, there are more than 1,000 Mexican restaurants in New York City. That’s a lot — and it doesn’t even include Mexican pop-up trucks and carts. Also food for thought: Have you ever really met anyone in New York who has not eaten at Chipotle?
  2. Churros. They are everywhere in the subway tunnels and New Yorkers love them warm, sweet, and slightly chewy!
  3. Viva tequila! The agave spirit is best when you’re in a festive and celebratory mood (like on Cinco de Mayo) and bars in New York are fully shelved with customers’ favorite tequila brands.
  4. Corona, Dos Equis, Tecate, and Modelo. Whether you are coming from a long day’s work or you’re at a weekend BBQ, a good ol’ Mexican beer never fails to refresh New Yorkers on hot, summer days. Orale!
  5. Avocados and GUACAMOLE. I personally think the avocado is one of life’s greatest food discoveries. Consumption of avocados has greatly increased in the past two decades: in the 1990s, the average American ate about 1.5 pounds of avocados every year; in 2012 he ate 5 pounds! While California (and Florida to a lesser extent) continue to produce a significant portion of the avocados consumed in the US, imports from Mexico, the world’s largest producer, have skyrocketed since a ban on imports was removed in the late 1990s by the US government. Avocados from Mexico are today available at almost every fruit stand, deli, and grocery store in Manhattan.


"Taco Nopal" by Yesica is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License
“Taco Nopal” by Yesica is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Sounds and looks tasty, right? A day of celebrating Mexican culture is a great thing — but the typical Cinco de Mayo celebration leaves out some key elements.

The daily diet of an average Mexican includes everything from the familiar rice, beans, chili peppers, chorizo, and corn or wheat tortillas, to lesser known dishes like mole, tamales, pozole, and fresh fruit juices (and, oh, so much more), which are available at Mexican restaurants across the city.

Spirits are also a big industry in Mexico. Mezcal, like tequila, is another spirit that can only be made south of the border — in the state of Oaxaca, in particular. New York has welcomed these spirits with open arms, so it’s not hard to branch out from the typical Cinco de Mayo shot or Margarita. La Biblioteca and Empellón Cocina have hundreds of agave spirits on their menus.

And as far as art, music, and literature go? These are also as heavily intertwined in Mexican culture as food and spirits. New York is lucky in that there are a slew of events and exhibits celebrating Mexican culture and art year-round. The New York Botanical Garden is opening a new exhibit celebrating the art of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo on May 16, and every year the city is home to the Celebrate Mexico Now festival, which highlights various aspects of contemporary Mexican culture.

With the significant growth of the Mexican population in New York in recent years (a 52 percent increase since 2000), it’s easier than ever to celebrate Mexican culture with authentic food and drink. The Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies at CUNY estimates that the Mexican population will surpass the number of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans living in New York City by 2023 (see this report). So instead of waiting around for next year’s Cinco de Mayo party to grab your oversized sombrero, a frozen Margarita, and a taco, why not explore the many other things the growing Mexican population in New York has to offer?


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