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How to throw a great Cinco De Mayo party: Food and recipes to try

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo on Sunday? Use this party-planning guide to prep guacamole, tacos, margaritas and more.
Cinco De Mayo how to
Shutterstock/Lovely Little Kitchen
/ Source: TODAY

How does one throw the perfect Cinco de Mayo party?

If you're putting together a truly delicious day's worth of food and fun, it might require a bit more effort than pouring tequila shots — which isn't a traditional way to celebrate the Mexican army's victory at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, anyway.

Preparing for this year's celebration, which falls on Sunday, takes some solid grocery guidance, a few recipes for a savory spread and — if you must — the key ingredients for a perfect margarita.

Here are 10 steps to pulling together the ultimate Cinco de Mayo fiesta on Sunday, May 5.

1. Become a margarita master

This refreshing drink is a classic, go-to order that's actually perfect any time of the year — and it's incredibly easy to make without a sugary mixer. There's no better time to become a pro than right now as the weather is heating up.

  • Use fresh lime juice: Resist the temptation to use a sour mix or a store-bought bottled lime juice. A true margarita has very few ingredients, which means that the quality of each one is important. To get the most juice out of your limes (if they're not already ripe enough), microwave them for about 15 seconds, then roll them on the counter a few times before juicing.
  • Use 100% agave tequila: Before you buy tequila, check out the label on the bottle. If it says "100% agave," you're good to go. If the label doesn't have this, "then up to 49 percent of your tequila is actually fermented cane sugar," according to Bon Appétit.
  • Stick to a 2:1:1 ratio: Whether you're making a single margarita or a big batch for a crowd, you'll have a perfect pour every time if you stick to the ratio of two parts tequila, one part lime juice and one part triple sec or orange liqueur.

2. Choose a great tequila for$20 or less


The following affordable tequilas are excellent mixing partners:

Dos Manos Blanco ($15): Dos Manos Blanco may not be a standout but it’s amazingly cheap considering that it’s triple-distilled and made with 100 percent blue agave. This tequila is relatively smooth and one of the best budget options.

Pueblo Viejo Blanco ($20): The one pick on our list that packs a little extra punch is Pueblo Viejo Blanco, a 100-proof tequila from the highlands of Jalisco. It’s a good choice for margaritas and other cocktails, but watch out — the extra alcohol can creep up on you.

El Jimador Blanco ($22): El Jimador Blanco a perfect choice for mixing, whether you're making margaritas, palomas or a spritzer. It’s an estate-grown and -bottled tequila that is a best seller in Mexico, although it's not the best choice for a neat drink.

Espolon Silver ($25): This award-winning tequila is quickly becoming a staple in tequila-based mixed drinks. It’s affordable, well packaged and boasts nice spicy notes. It’s smooth enough for many consumers to enjoy sipping straight, which is rare for such a modestly priced tequila.

3. Mix up the margarita menu

While classic margaritas are usually crowd-pleasers, exploring new ways to enliven the drink can be half as fun as drinking it ... well, almost.

Ina Garten's Jalapeño Margarita

This mildly spicy margarita is the perfect blend of heat and sweet. Ina Garten’s take on this ice-cold drink truly wakes up the senses.

Fresh Raspberry Margarita

Add a hint of berry flavor and a pop of color to the traditional margarita for the ideal Cinco sipper.

Grilled limes and mezcal give these frozen margaritas a unique and smoky flavor that will make party guests think they've been served by a professional mixologist.

4. Go for the guacamole

Guacamole has become a staple at pretty much every party, so go out and get some avocados while you still can. Try these recipes to savor the flavor of this classic Mexican dish.

Perfect Guacamole with Pico de Gallo

This zesty guacamole by Gabriel Kolofon is topped with cilantro, cotija cheese and homemade pico de gallo to represent the green, white and red colors of the Mexican flag. "The colors presented in the Mexican flag have great meaning. The green color signifies hope and prosperity, the white represents peace, and the red symbolizes the blood of Mexican heroes," Kolofon told TODAY.

5-Minute Chunky Guacamole

This classic guacamole recipe with avocado, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and lemon or lime juice, comes together quickly and the seasoning levels can easily be adjusted to your tastebuds.

Guacamole Dulce (Sweet Guacamole)

Take a walk on the tropical side. Try something new by making your guacamole slightly sweet with passionfruit, jicama, pomegranate and coconut.

5. Buy the best chips and salsa

In a taste test of 25 different types of chips and salsa, Trader Joe's was the top pick in both categories.Amazon, Trader Joe's

Choosing the right chips and salsa can be a hefty feat. There are dozens of options at pretty much every store. To make it easier,Food & Wine editors tasted over 25 kinds of tortilla chips — and just as many varieties of jarred salsa — to create the ultimate buying guide.

The top pick for each? TODAY fan favorite store Trader Joe's won out above other brands for its classic Salsa Autentica ($4.95) and Restaurant-Style White Corn Tortilla Chips ($1.79 per bag).

6. How to make homemade salsa

If you have a little time to space or want to bring something simple to a potluck, this tomato-based dip is pretty easy to make. All it takes is a few fresh ingredients, a little time spent chopping and about an hour of fridge time to let all of the ingredients meld together nicely.

Adam Richman's Easiest Salsa Ever recipe.Featurepics

To make "Man v. Food" host Adam Richman's "Easiest Salsa Ever" all you need is the following:

  • 3 ripe tomatoes
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt

Dice the tomatoes, and place them in a medium bowl, saving as much of the juices as possible. Add the jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice, and garlic, and season with salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

7. Dish up incredible tacos

Tacos are a terrific dish to make for a party. Not only are they easy to throw together, but there are plenty of variations from which to choose, whether you or your guests prefer fish, beef, chicken or veggies as the base.

Cal-Mex Fish Tacos with Creamy Slaw

These crispy tacos made with light, flaky white fish fried in a Mexican beer batter are topped with a crunchy purple cabbage slaw for a light and refreshing finish.

Chicken Chili Tacos

Chicken Chili Tacos

Sweet Potato Chronicles

These super-simple chicken tacos require just a handful of ingredients, and the chicken is made in a slow cooker, so it's mostly hands off, too.

Grilled strips of beef, zesty lime and lively mint will make these beef tacos an unforgettable highlight of the Cinco de Mayo dinner party.

8. Not a taco fan? Try enchiladas instead

Enchiladas might be heartier than tacos but since they're typically baked and served on a big platter, prepping and serving them is easy when you need to make a few trays for a crowd. Plus, you can always serve them with savory toppings like jalapenos, extra cheese, tomatoes and different salsas so guests can customize their entrees.

Easiest-Ever Beef Enchiladas

Stretch how many people you can feed with these beef-filled enchiladas by serving this dish with lots of toppings. It's kind of like a taco bar ... but for enchiladas.

With the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 4, make roast turkey sliders or chili for the family and then save the leftovers to fuel up the fiesta come Sunday.

Red and Green Enchiladas

Though these enchiladas take a bit of time to prepare, they're visually stunning and extremely flavorful. The filling and sauces can be made in advance and assembled on the day of your party to make this crowd pleaser efficient, too.

9. Serve desserts that stick to the theme

Salted Caramel Flan Cheesecake

This decadent dish may not be traditional flan, but it's salty, creamy and crunchy all at the same time.

Martha Stewart's Chai Snowballs

Martha Stewart's Chai Snowballs

Martha Stewart Living

Martha Stewart's "snowballs" are similar to Mexican wedding cookies but have a chai-inspired combination of Darjeeling tea and warming spices in the batter that make them a true standout.

Frozen margarita tarts

When eating calories is preferable to drinking them, get a two-for-one deal with this delicious dessert. It's worth totally worth it to keep the food as lively as the drinks.

10. Celebrity chef-style Cinco de Mayo

Despite a lot of the hoopla stateside, Cinco de Mayo is not actually a big event throughout most of Mexico.

Since the holiday honors a battle fought in the state of Puebla, few people outside that state make it a big celebration. Plus, the victory against the French only lasted for a few days.

Though May 5 isn't as big as Dios de los Muertos and or Mexico's Independence Day (Sept. 16), chefs known for their takes on flavorful Mexican cuisine, like Food Network stars Marcela Valladolid and Aarón Sánchez, use the holiday as another great excuse to spend the day with loved ones, eating great food.

“It was a lot about just getting together and having beautiful family meals,” Valladolid told TODAY in 2013. “It is all about tamales and margaritas.”

At the Sánchez household, family members stay busy grilling up chiles nogada (stuffed peppers) with carne asada. Adults get margaritas, and the kids get agua fresca. After enjoying a meal, Sánchez said his family always delights in a truly special cross-cultural party activity: "We always do Latin karaoke."