Cinco de Mayo 2

I've been holding out on you all, and in no small way. About a year ago I uncovered one of Baltimore's best kept secrets, and I've been keeping it to myself. But the time has come to bring you in on it.

Now, folks who have spent any time living in Baltimore know that it is full of best kept secrets - little hole-in-the-wall places that serve up some culinary genius, or some odd ethnic place in an entirely wrong neighborhood that manages to pull in a modest crowd all the same. Cinco de Mayo 2 falls into the second category. Not the Cinco de Mayo 2 on Eastern Avenue in the heart of Spanish Town. I'm talking about their other location about a mile further west on the edge of Little Italy. That's pretty far afield, but it turns out this location pulls in a steady stream of working folks for lunch.

In the front, it's a Latino grocery, complete with a modest produce cooler, an in-house butcher, and a wide selection of dry and canned goods. If you weave your way through this, you will find a small, unassuming, five-booth restaurant in the back that is usually close to capacity, at least over lunch.

They have an amazing menu in both Spanish and English that contains a full spectrum of tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and tortas. No nachos or taco salads here. You can get these items with everything from chicken to chorizo to my favorite - le lingua. They even have a head cheese torta and a hearty menudo.

My favorite remains the taco de lingua, and Cinco de Mayo 2 does a pretty good job. The meat is tender and unseasoned and is nestled in two soft corn tortillas with the customary onions and cilantro along with a lime wedge and two small containers - one of salsa verde and one of a potent salsa rojo that will make your eyes water. And, all their tacos are served this way. No crunchy shells or shredded lettuce or even cheese our sour cream. This is straight-up Mexican-style. If you've never had a taco like this, you don't know what you're missing. It's lighter than its American counterpart - both in flavor and in how it sits inside you afterward. The lime takes the tinge off the lingua while the cilantro balances the onions and adds a hint of freshness.

 Tacos de Lingua

Tacos de Lingua

Most of their items can be ordered as a platter that includes beans and rice. The beans are consistently smooth and creamy with a very strong bean flavor and not much else. They are a low salt affair but are still very flavorful and work well with the rice.

And the rice is fantastic. Moist and tasting of adobo, the rice contains a healthy smattering of red and green peppers, peas, and sometimes even green beans. When mixed with those creamy beans, it is close to perfection.

 Beans and rice

Beans and rice

Cinco de Mayo 2 is far enough away from the path through Harbor East beat by tourists and office workers. It is typically full of Spanish - from the staff, the patrons, and the two TVs that are always playing some talk show. Frequently I am the only Anglo in the place, and my Spanish is so lousy that I am sometimes misunderstood. But I always leave with delicious food for a very reasonable price.

Cinco de Mayo 2 is located on Eastern Avenue between Eden Street and Central Avenue. They don't have a website or Facebook page and are a cash-only affair. Two tacos with beans and rice will run you about $7.