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Cinco de Mayo Celebrations

To most Americans, May 5 is just another day.

For Mexico, however, it means much more than that. While not exactly Mexican Independence Day, it was the day that 4,000 Mexican soldiers defeated the French and traitor Mexican army of 8,000 at Puebla, Mexico, the morning of May 5, 1862. It was a turning point in their struggle for independence.

Otherwise known as Cinco de Mayo, it is becoming a more popular celebration here in the states, especially at Mexican restaurants.

ALL BRANCHES OF THE South Austin Grill are celebrating Cinco de Mayo not only on May 5, but throughout the entire weekend as well. They have already begun decorating, and in Old Town, a colorful window painted by one of the hosts greets people as they walk by. Inside, colorful banners and posters are hung throughout the restaurant. Servers answer the phone with "Ten days until Cinco de Mayo. Nine days until . . ."

Beginning on Friday, May 3, and running through Sunday, May 5, the restaurant will be offering special dishes. Tortilla chips will be red, white and green ñ Mexicoís national colors. And, of course, what would Cinco de Mayo be without margaritas?

Juan Benitez, chef and manager at the Old Town South Austin Grill, has been busy preparing some special dishes. Two of the dishes that will be featured for the celebration will be the Chicken Sampler, a dish that comes with taquitos, quesadillas, nachos and chicken wings; and Salmon with Lime Butter, served with rice and skewered vegetables.

"It's going to be better than before," he said.

Chris Patterson, COO and President of South Austin Grill, said, "Our goal is to own Cinco de Mayo this year. We really want to push it this year." He said that they are sponsoring a raffle with a trip to Austin, Texas as first prize. Other prizes include Dinner for a Year at South Austin Grill.

South Austin Grill is located at 801 King St. Call 703-684-8969.

DANCING PEPPERS CANTINA is also holding a weekend-long celebration. They'll kick off the weekend with an inaugural Cinco de Mayo Golf Tournament. Starting at 8 a.m. on Friday, May 3, it will cost $60 per person and will include a lunch buffet afterwards at Dancing Peppers Cantina.

Friday evening, they will have an Old-Fashioned Texas Bar-B-Q cook out. From 4 to 11 p.m., a Bar-B-Q Chicken Plate will be available for $6.95 and from 8:30 p.m. until 1:30 a.m., "Music by Will Fox" will provide entertainment.

On Saturday, an outside bar will serve Mexican beers and margaritas, while inside margaritas and buckets of beers will be sold, along with 20-cent Hot Wings. "Gene Pool Zombies" will play from 9:30 pm. Until 1:30 a.m.

The fun continues on Sunday with Bar-B-Q Brisket Plates for $7.95, outside bar and entertainment by "Brian Fox Band" and "Music by Will."

Dancing Peppers Cantina is located at 4111 Duke St. Call them at 703-823-1167.

DON'T FORGET TO STOP BY BAJA FRESH. This Mexican grill is known for their meals that are prepared fresh without preservatives, MSG, lard or microwaves. Their location on Duke Street has chunky burritos, charbroiled fresh meats, tacos and fresh salads.

A self-service salsa bar has fresh salsas that are prepared several times during the day with fresh ingredients. Their signature dish, "Baja-style" fish tacos are cooked fresh as well. Stop by and pick some up or try making the recipe at home:

FISH TACOS

1. Place a 1-1/2 oz. filet of fresh fish that is lightly breaded with cracker meal and cook by placing in a deep fryer.

2. While the fish is cooking, dip 1/3 of corn tortillas in oil and heat on grill until soft.

3. Using tongs, take the fish from the fryer and place one piece of cooked fish in two tortillas. Add a 1/2 oz. of chopped cabbage on top of fish.

4. Add 1 1/2 oz. of Baja Pico de Gallo salsa over shredded cabbage.

5. Spread 1/2 oz. of spicy fish salsa lengthwise on top of the Pico de Gallo.

Baja Fresh is located at 3231 Duke St. Call them at 703-823-2888.

CINCO DE MAYO is also the theme for some local non-profit groups. For the fourth year, the Arlandia Health Center for Women and Children will hold their annual Cinco de Mayo Celebration. Proceeds benefit The Arlandia Health Center, which provides basic health care services in English and Spanish to low-income working women and children in Alexandria.

This year, the food will still be prepared by Ramparts Restaurant, but the event itself will be held this year at Jack Taylor's Alexandria Toyota. Beer, wine, margaritas and Mexican specialties will be served from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Events will include a salsa show and lessons as well as a silent auction.

Jack Taylor's Alexandria Toyota is located at 3750 Jefferson Davis Highway. Call 703-370-7630.

UNITED COMMUNITY MINISTRIES (UCM) has decided to use the Cinco de Mayo theme for their annual celebration that will be held on Saturday, May 4, at the riverfront home of one of the Supporting Friendsí members. Soiree Catering has designed a very special menu for the event, complete with cachuettes, spicy Mexican peanuts with roasted garlic, lime juice and chili powder; carnitas empanadas served with cilantro pesto — slow roasted pork with toasted spices in a pastry; smoked brisket burrito — rolled with Mexican rice and red chili sauce in a flour tortilla; shrimp brochettes with a chipotle sauce; and chicken with apple wood bacon and sweet peppers.

A salsa buffet will include a fresh cheese "fondue" served with warm tortillas and tostaditas; a black bean pate served with crispy plantains and yucca; pico de gallo and guacamole with tostaditas. For dessert there will be anise pound cake; Ibarra double chocolate cookies; and churros, a deep-fried pastry rolled in cinnamon sugar.