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A few days prior to Cinco de Mayo, I found myself munching on some Chipotle Mexican Grill crispy tacos that contained brown rice, black beans, a spicy salsa, along with a strange substance that the Newport Beach, California chain called sofritas.

What's sofritas, you ask? Simply put, they are shredded tofu crumbles that are braised in smoked jalapeno peppers, roasted poblanos and a blend of herbs and spices. Chipotle offers it as a non-meat alternative to chicken, steak, barbacoa and carnitas.

Fake meat, huh? Weird, right?

Well, it isn't once you realize that Cinco de Mayo -- which celebrates Mexico's victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla -- is a bigger deal in America than it is south of the border.

THE SECRET HISTORY OF CINCO DE MAYO

On May 5, 1862, French soldiers landed in Mexico in order to collect outstanding debts from the country's newly-elected president Benito Juarez. History tells us that approximately 4,000 Mexican soldiers told 8,000 French soldiers "No Mas!" by beating the pomme frites out of the Frenchies during a battle that reportedly took less than two hours to complete.

Unless you live around the village of Puebla -- about 100 miles east of Mexico City -- you won't find many Cinco de Mayo festivities south of the border.

In fact, native Mexicans wait until Sept. 16 -- Mexican Independence Day -- to party hard. It was the Mexican immigrants, who began populating Southern California in the first half of the 20th century, that brought Cinco de Mayo to prominence in America.    

Since the 1980s, Cinco de Mayo celebrations have sprung up everywhere from Los Angeles to New York to London to Paris to, we're not kidding, Tokyo!

DRINK-O DE MAYO?

Perhaps, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that beer companies were the biggest promoters of U.S. Cinco de Mayo festivities. 

While they sell larger-than-life drinks 365 days out of the year, South Sioux City's La Isla Mexican Restaurant & Bar is the Weekender's go-to place for Cinco de Mayo's drink-o de Mayo.

After all, the 611 W. 29th St. eatery is famous for margarita cocktails that use top self tequila. 

Want a beer chaser for your cocktail? Owner Cesar Luna will literally place an opened bottle of Corona in a glass that's roughly the size of a goldfish bowl.

Desiring a bit of boom-chicka-boom-boom later in the night? La Isla offers something it calls "Viagra."

Consisting of a platter filled with oysters, octopus, shrimp and a bottle of Mexican beer, La Isla's "Viagra" may be just what the doctor ordered.

SAY HOLA TO SOME TERRIFIC TACOS

Still, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican culture as well as its cuisine.

One of the most authentic places for Mexican cuisine is at La Guadalupana (2522 Dakota Ave., South Sioux City).  

Our recommendations are for the steak taco (served teeming with cilantro) as well as the alambre taco (the ultimate meat-on-meat taco that is made with steak, pork and chorizo).

So, with so many choices in Siouxland, why do we find ourselves at Chipotle, of all places? 

Call it intestinal training. We got to get our bodies in working order on the days leading up to Cinco de Mayo, right?

We know Cinco de Mayo is more of a marketing ploy than it is a historic holiday. But it is a fun way to celebrate our neighbors to the south.

Please excuse us as we get back to our tofu tacos.

   

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