Is it a coincidence that mojitos and mint juleps both share one key ingredient — mint? Probably. The similarities end there, but I see that as a good thing!
As the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep isn't very common at local restaurants and bars, but you can easily make it at home with bourbon, simple syrup and mint. Mojitos, a refreshing muddle of mint leaves, rum, lime juice, sugar and club soda, are much more mainstream.
What's even more popular than mojitos? Margaritas. Frozen or on the rocks, this tequila-lime concoction seems to be synonymous with Mexican culture in the U.S. You can get a great margarita on the rocks at Luna Mexican Grill in Hummelstown, El Serrano in Lancaster, Herby's El Mexicano in Bressler and El Sol Mexican Restaurant in Harrisburg. For a delicious frozen version, try Fiesta Mexico in York or Harrisburg.
When it comes to Mexican food, there's one place that steals the show in Central Pennsylvania and, surprisingly, most people don't know about it — yet. Tres Hermanos in Harrisburg is as authentic as they come. Get the chorizo tacos, in all their spicy glory, and thank me later. They're the best I've ever had, followed closely by the al pastor (marinated pork), pollo (chicken) and carne asada (steak) tacos. The best part is the self-serve fixings bar that includes pico de gallo, salsas and lime wedges. Don't forget to order a side of refried beans and rice, both of which also are very tasty. There's even a Mexican market toward the back of the restaurant.
Now let's deconstruct Bluegrass-inspired Derby Day food. After all, you'll need some substantial Southern fare to anchor the mint juleps.
Where to begin? How about at Home 231 in Harrisburg, a charming little place that presents comfort food with a modern flair? It's one of the only places I've found in the area that has fried green tomatoes on the menu. There's also a nice beet salad with goat cheese, frisee and toasted hazelnuts, as well as deviled eggs served three ways — classic, red beet and bacon. Mac and cheese with smoked ham and cast-iron corn bread will round out your Southern dining experience.
The Cork & Cap Restaurant in Lancaster has another Derby-worthy beet salad, this one with pickled beets, red beet egg, bacon, walnuts and blue cheese. Its entrée list includes a bourbon-glazed double pork chop and buttermilk ranch fried chicken.
Finish out the day with pecan pie from The Pie Shop at Central Market York, which now has an additional location at the Lititz Farmers Market. Bistro 19 in York also serves Kentucky pecan pie, layered with chocolate chunk cookie bread, in a flaky pecan crust.
What will be on your plate this Cinco de Mayo and Derby Day?
Erica Streisfeld is the editor for custom publishing at Journal Publications Inc., parent company of the Central Penn Business Journal. She moonlights as a foodie and wino, and many people also know her as founder and organizer of the Harrisburg Cupcake Cup, a community cupcake competition that doubles as a fundraiser for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. Follow her at @HbgFoodandWine.