Los Angeles is to Cinco de Mayo what Boston is to St. Patrick's Day: a culturally bastardized but beloved holiday that provides an excuse to drink too much on a weekday. So while we could point you to great mezcal bars or cocktail dens that will craft you a delightful tequila beverage (see: Las Perlas, Petty Cash, Border Grill, etc.), it seems more in line with the “Cinco de Drink-o” tradition to hook you up with places specializing in sweet, sour and boozy margaritas on the cheap (tequila only, no wine-based!).
If you'd like to skip the holiday crowds at places like Velvet Margarita, El Carmen and Casa Vega, head to these lesser-known establishments offering free chips and salsa and over-the-top margaritas. That's all you really need for a proper Cinco de Mayo anyway. Hint: Leave the sombrero at home.
Salsa y Beer
North Hollywood's Salsa y Beer, a boisterous rancho-themed restaurant known for its sizzling molcajete platters, is a lively place at any hour. The tables are packed, the cocktails are colorful and strong, and there are unlimited servings of mildly spicy bean dip to pair with your cantarito, a tequila concoction from Jalisco made with various citrus juices and served in a large clay pot. If you're up for something more flamboyant, try the Hen-chata (horchata spiked with Hennessy) or a Lava Colada (a piña colada-strawberry daiquiri hybrid). We'll stick with the classic margaritas though, which are infinitely customizable on their own. 11669 Sherman Way, North Hollywood; (747) 248-5633, salsaandbeernorthhollywood.com.
Riveria Mexican Grill
The best margaritas in the South Bay? Nearby Ortega 120 might beg to differ, but Riveria's claim is hard to argue with after a few blended Jimmy Buffett specials served in retro cactus stemware. This surfer-themed Mexican restaurant feels like permanent Cabo spring break — for better or worse — but the price is right for fresh lime margaritas and a plate of garlic mashed potato-filled crispy tacos. If you're feeling flush, opt for the Cadillac, which comes with an upside down miniature bottle of Gran Marnier stuck on top. 1615 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach; (310) 540-2501, rivmex.com.
Long a hangout of thirsty USC students, La Barca offered undergrads the opportunity to pair a gut-busting super burrito and a margarita for less than $15 total — and that's not even during happy hour, where those fluorescent-colored and surprisingly strong margs will run you a cool $3.50. Though it's wise to stick with the traditional, there are other, wackier options too, like a freshly blended banana margarita and the mangonada, flavored with mango, drizzled with chamoy and served with a tamarindo candy straw and a ornamental flower. 2414 S. Vermont Ave., Adams-Normandie; (323) 735-6567.
Gilbert's El Indio
Gilbert's is a West L.A. institution in many circles, a well-worn dining room wallpapered with old photographs, where you'll find gigantic super nachos and taco-enchilada platters served with side bowls of pickled carrots. Gilbert's is also a margarita purist of sorts — hardly anyone orders them blended; they're more often dealt out by the carafe rather than by the glass, and they feature only one type of tequila (this isn't the place to ask for Patron). But a bargain margarita pitcher, tortilla chips and the special salsa diabla is a match made in heaven. Just be sure to bring cash. 2526 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 450-8057; gilbertselindio.com.
Caramba Mexican Food & Cocktails
Hidden in sleepy suburban Alhambra, Caramba is more or less an old-school dive bar that happens to serve decent Mexican food, complete with dim lighting and velvet pantings of Spanish-Aztec battle scenes on the walls. The bartenders are margarita maestros — in the 1960s sense of the word — though their cocktail repertoire also includes mai tais, chi-chis and piña coladas. Their potent margaritas are available as singles, doubles or “one entire quart.” None are very expensive. If you require something more rib-sticking than the complimentary chips and salas, consider the hard-shell tacos, or a true throwback, the Mexican pizza. 3020 W. Main St., Alhambra; (626) 282-5645.