Flavor Stranger

Cinco de Mayo shares its menu with a longstanding sister restaurant, but the food is often underseasoned

The Gonzalez family has taken the food served at Guillermo's Double L Restaurant for six decades to a second location on Fort Lowell Road.

Cinco de Mayo Mexican Restaurant and Seafood may have a different name, but it might as well be called Guillermo's North. The menu is the same; on one visit, our server was even wearing a Guillermo's nametag. Garrett dined at Guillermo's about a week before our first visit to Cinco de Mayo, and he noted that items he had at both restaurants were strikingly similar.

Therefore, it's safe to assume that if you like Guillermo's—and seeing as the restaurant has been serving up Mexican fare on South Fourth Avenue for 60 years, Guillermo's clearly has fans—you'll probably like Cinco de Mayo.

Me? Well, I was left too often wondering: Where's the seasoning?

There is a lot to like about Cinco de Mayo, which occupies the Fort Lowell spot that was once home to Antonio's Restaurante, Da Vinci Italian Restaurant and a Las Cazuelitas. The space is lovely; skylights, abundant plants and a burbling fountain create a tropical courtyard atmosphere (that is both heightened and hindered by the fact that it can get rather muggy; either the place does not have air conditioning, or it needs to be turned up). There's a cute bar area; colorful papel picado that reads "Restaurant los Gonzalez" hangs from the ceiling. The service was great on both visits, and the menu has something for everyone.

The food is where the problems lie. Actually, the word "problems" overstates the case; nothing we had was bad. However, nothing we had was outstanding, either.

The beef enchiladas are a perfect example of what's right, and what's ultimately wrong, with Cinco de Mayo's fare. Longtime Tucson Weekly contributor Dave Irwin had the enchilada—along with a chile relleno, rice and beans—on his combo plate No. 2 ($9.75) during our lunch visit. On the right side: The enchilada sauce was fantastic—smoky and nuanced. On the wrong side: The shredded beef inside the enchilada was surprisingly bland. Where was the seasoning?

Let's move to Dave's chile relleno: The eggy batter was the dominant element of the oddly flattened pepper—so much so that Dave said it reminded him of a frittata. If egg can dominate the flavor when a pepper and cheese are present, that says something.

On that lunch visit, I ordered the chicken mole combo plate ($9.25), and it was one of the better dishes we tried. The shredded chicken was covered in a sauce that had a nice little kick, but not a whole lot of depth. While I would have liked a wee bit more chocolate flavor—there was barely a hint of sweetness—it grew on me as I ate it.

Dave's albondigas ($5.75) featured a tasty, if oily, broth, but the meatballs themselves were grossly underseasoned. My guacamole side ($2.25) was very mediocre; it wasn't the least bit spicy, and it needed salt.

Surprisingly, we also found some consistency issues at Cinco de Mayo. On that lunch visit, the rice we received with our combos was of the reddish variety that often comes with Mexican food. On our dinner visit, we received a white rice with carrots and peas that—forgive me if I am repeating myself—needed seasoning. On our lunch visit, we received one type of salsa; on our dinner visit, we received two.

On that dinner visit, I was fortunate enough to order another of the better dishes we enjoyed: My fish taco combo plate ($8.25) with pollock that was not breaded was the most-flavorful dish we had at Cinco de Mayo. The fish could have been seasoned a bit more—perhaps with a little more garlic or pepper—but with a squirt of lemon, it worked.

Garrett's enchiladas de camaron (a pricey $13.25) had the same problem as Dave's beef enchilada: The sauce was great (it was the same sauce, in fact), but the shrimp were completely lost, offering texture, and nothing more.

The strangest dish we had was our dinner starter: The shredded beef cheese crisp ($8.25). If you count salt as a seasoning, this was the only overseasoned dish we had at Cinco de Mayo. It was way too salty, and I am not sure why.

Our other starter, the small campechana cocktail ($10.50), was a mixed bag. The seafood itself was flavorful and fresh, but it was all densely packed into a sundae-style glass, with not nearly enough of the tomatoey sauce.

While the service and the atmosphere at Cinco de Mayo were nice, and some of the entrées were good enough, too many of the dishes were bland and underseasoned for me to recommend the restaurant—no matter how long its sister restaurant has been around.

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