Cinco de Mayo has come to be known in the U.S. as a celebration of Mexican-American culture, and it is more popular here than in Mexico, where the holiday commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
Cinco de Mayo is also the name of the newest restaurant in Urbana’s quickly expanding variety of dining choices. Owner Antonio Ulloa’s fifth location—others are in Westminster, Columbia, Martinsburg and Middletown with a sixth location planned in Gaithersburg’s Kentlands—is a tastefully done wood and brick corner with a long, partially secluded bar and a metal sun sculpture that lights up. It’s not your usual red and green decor.
Over a huge burgundy glass of house-made sangria—light and refreshing and not too sweet—Ulloa said, “We try to be a different kind of Mexican restaurant. We avoid frozen foods, use a special long-grain converted rice and add garlic to dishes that traditionally don’t use it.”
Ulloa grew up in North Carolina where his father owned restaurants, so he has been part of the restaurant business his entire life. When he was a teen, Ulloa recalled that his father would say, “You want some money, go clean some tables!” He quickly learned the value of money and also how to develop and grow businesses.
Ulloa and his older brother moved to Virginia and opened three Mexican restaurants in the Blacksburg area. After his brother moved on, Ulloa was travelling in the Hagerstown area and really liked it. He researched options and opened his first Cinco de Mayo there three years ago. Soon, however, the area became glutted with restaurants and business suffered, so he closed that location and opened others.
He came to Urbana about three years ago and said it reminded him of Raleigh, North Carolina—growing like crazy. He kept the idea of an Urbana location in the back of his mind for when the time was right. “I really liked the area. … That is what was attractive. It’s growing and is family-oriented.”
Cinco de Mayo is currently operating in soft-opening mode with a grand opening date pending. Ulloa wants to continue to prepare and get training exactly right before its official opening.
The menu is large, has a lot of standards but some standouts as well. The recipes are those passed down from Ulloa’s father. Signature Arroz con Pollo is made with boneless marinated chicken strips, grilled with onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes and served over rice topped with a special cheese sauce. Another signature is Camarones al Mojo de Ajo—garlic shrimp with a nice bite served with rice, beans, pico de gallo and sour cream. It features their homemade garlic sauce. The guacamole is also made onsite with the addition of garlic. The cheese sauce is their recipe, and they also add chorizo to it. Ulloa said that the bowls are popular, with varied seasonings and additions. He plans to change the menu every 18 months.
He has a tough schedule and visits each restaurant twice a week. “I can’t be complacent,” he said. “I’m constantly trying new areas.” One of those is the Kentlands in Gaithersburg where he working on a site in the retail center currently undergoing renovation. The location will be larger than Urbana, and he hopes to open there in late fall.
Ulloa lives in Westminster with his wife and four small children. He emphasized the desire for the restaurants to be family friendly but also appeal to all. “We want to stand out for our individuality,” he said.
Once officially open, happy hour will be Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 pm. Cinco de Mayo is located at 3501 John Simmons St. on the corner next to Manhattan Pizza and offers an outdoor patio. Stay tuned to their Facebook page for the grand opening date.