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August 02, 2007

Cinco De Mayo 2

Dominic Armato
Relax, this isn't a ploy to sell more Corona.

I'm making a little more headway, combing the neighborhood for a taqueria that tickles my fancy, and Cinco de Mayo 2 was the name of my latest stop. There are probably a good 20-30 places in the immediate neighborhood to try, and with no info online that I can find, deciding which to start with is largely an arbitrary process. Cinco de Mayo's sign, however, contained one word that vaulted them right to the top of my to-do list. Thanks to Cemitas Puebla, I've become a huge fan of the cemita. Well, theirs, anyway. Can't say I've ever had one anywhere else. So when I drove by and saw "cemitas" printed on Cinco's sign, I dropped in. And then, against my better judgment, I went back.

Dominic Armato
Cinco de Mayo 2 is both grocery and restaurant, with an original location (which I haven't visited) in Glen Burnie. Upon entering, the first room is rather quaint. There's a small produce stand with a few staples, a cooler with some cheeses, a butcher on duty and a wall full of candy. Passing through a doorway, the place gets a little more stark -- a long, narrow room with dry goods lining the walls and fluorescent lights overhead. And only by walking through this room do you reach the restaurant proper.

It's a full-service restaurant that seats about 40, and it might as well be 200 feet underground. They've tried to dress it up with a couple of plants, paintings and mylar streamers, but with a brick floor and tile walls, exposed ductwork, poor lighting and a complete absence of windows, it feels less like a restaurant and more like Fiesta Night at the Führerbunker. Don't get me wrong, I love weird little hole-in-the-wall joints, but when I keep looking over my shoulder expecting to see a sombrero-clad Goebbels, it makes it a little difficult to enjoy my lunch.

Dominic Armato
It's a good-sized menu, with an extensive selection of tacos, tostadas, sopes and burritos, as well as a handful of full plates, both meat and seafood based. This probably isn't where I should be having a coctel de camaron, but it's one of my standbys, even in its lowest form. It's overpriced at $10 (as is almost every shrimp dish everywhere -- another subject for another time), but it's a fairly generous portion, served in a large goblet. I believe it's a ketchup base, which I don't mind, but the balance is all off. It had a very strong dried chile flavor, which somehow seems inappropriate to me, and was crying out for lime. The shrimp were pretty blah, but the biggest problem was that it was nearly room temperature. Something like this has to be cold, cold, cold. Or at least cold.

Dominic Armato
I also tried to get my fix, opting for the cemita milanesa de res. I suppose I was just looking for disappointment. It doesn't help that Cemitas Puebla makes one of the best sandwiches in all of Chicago, but I doubt I would have been impressed with Cinco de Mayo's offering, even coming at it in a vacuum. Most of the same components were there -- sesame roll, breaded and fried meat, avocado, queso fresco and chipotles -- and Cinco's also includes some tomato, onion, and a layer of refried beans. But everything here was just flat and tasteless. The bread seemed to have been toasted, but was somehow still limp and wet. Though the milanesa platter at the table next to me looked fresh, the cutlet on my sandwich was a greasy, leather-tough slab without a hint of crispness. The chipotles were canned, which probably isn't unreasonable, but I've been spoiled by the house-pickled ones to which I've become accustomed. In any case, it was just a bad sandwich.

Dominic Armato
The tacos, however, left a little room for optimism. They're stuffed to the gills and nicely plated with radishes, grilled cebollitas and strips of a sautéed vegetable that I believe was cactus. As for the tacos themselves, the carne enchilado, some manner of heavily seasoned pork, was spicy, bold and enjoyable, if not exceptional. I found the carnitas somewhat odd. It was a pile of very pale meat without the slightest browning of any kind, and for a dish that's normally braised or roasted to exceptional tenderness, there was an awful lot of connective tissue that still had most of its bite. It's as though they were halfway through prep and decided to just serve it to me as-is. One pleasant, if unexpected, surprise was the taco al pastor. I generally make it a rule not to order al pastor unless I can see the rotisserie cone, thereby ensuring some fresh, charred pork, but what can I say... the craving was getting to me. Cinco's pork seemed more oven-roasted than spit-roasted, but they did manage a little bit of char by some unknown measure. What caught me off guard, however, was that it was downright fruity. I've had plenty of versions where a chunk of pineapple is sitting atop the spit, so that the drippings add a touch of sweetness and some nice caramelization. But I was getting a couple chunks of pineapple in every bite. I can't speak to its authenticity, but I did enjoy it as a little change of pace. It certainly won't be knocking a more typical al pastor off its pedestal, but I could see ordering this every now and again as a little change of pace. I doubt, however, that I'll have the chance. I could see maybe grabbing a couple of tacos to go if I stop in for dried chiles from the market, but otherwise there's nothing I feel compelled to come back for. Especially considering the surroundings.

Cinco de Mayo 2
1312 Eastern Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21231


Good luck with Baltimore. You should check out Minato for sushi and Corner Stable in Timmonium/Towson for ribs. Don't let the decor scare you.

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