For decades, Ralph Pagano has thrown a killer Cinco de Mayo party including everything from tequila shots to luchadores. The chef threw his inaugural fiesta in 1995, while he was working at restaurants on West Broadway in Lower Manhattan. He continued the tradition through his time in the Hamptons before moving it to South Florida.
The coronavirus crisis has closed restaurant dining rooms, including both of his Naked Taco locations in Miami Beach and Coconut Creek, but Pagano has devised a way to throw a Cinco de Mayo celebration while maintaining physical distancing.
On Tuesday, May 5, the chef will host the Cinco de Mayo Drive-In Edition at his recently opened Naked Taco in Coconut Creek. From 4 to 10 p.m., guests will be able to celebrate the occasion in a safe manner with food, margaritas, and entertainment.
The idea, Pagano says, came from classic drive-ins and the latter-day fast-food concept Sonic. "We're going to celebrate by having everyone social-distance from their cars," he explains. "I'm taking that model and running with it. The idea of everyone enjoying some tacos from their cars allows for proper social distancing."
The restaurant will also provide a socially distanced restroom for guests' use.
Entertainment will once again include luchadores, and Pagano promises they'll do battle while adhering to social-distancing guidelines. "We're going to have the luchadores stand across the street from each other and yell," the chef explains. "I promise it will be as much fun as — or even more fun than — the usual match."
To keep with the party-while-protected theme, guests will be able to purchase special Naked Taco facemasks. The fashionable protective coverings come in different styles, including one that declares Naked Taco "the best taco you ever ate out." The masks cost $5, and all proceeds will go to Feeding South Florida. Ditto Naked Taco shirts ($15), hats ($10), and other merch. "I'm donating my entire inventory to Feeding South Florida," Pagano says. "I have over 500 pieces, and I hope to sell them all."
The Cinco de Mayo Drive-In Edition menu includes elote in a cup ($7), guacamole ($9), tuna nachos ($16), burritos with a choice of fillings ($14), queso quesadillas ($13), and the Big Frank burger ($14). Taco varieties include the Americano (ground beef, lettuce, jalapeño, pico de gallo, cheddar, and sour cream, for $6); the Philly cheesesteak (shaved rib-eye steak, grilled cheese, and caramelized onions, for $8); crispy Baja fish with lime crema ($7); Buffalo fried chicken with blue cheese crumbles and ranch ($7); lobster with candied bacon ($10); crispy Key West shrimp with toasted coconut and sriracha aioli ($7); and cheese and red bean ($6).
For the beverage list, Pagano will offer classic margaritas and the Some Like It Hot margarita, made with passionfruit purée and jalapeño, as well as frozen piña coladas. Cocktails will cost $6 a pop, and quarts will run $24. Beers will cost $4 each, and Mexican Coke will go for $2.50.
The menu will debut this Friday, May 1, when the Coconut Creek location opens for takeout. The restaurant will operate from 4 to 10 p.m. using a touch-free payment system. Customers can order online at lovenakedtaco.com, pay with a credit card, and d up for curbside pickup.
Pagano plans to open his South Beach location for takeout service June 1.
Perhaps appropriately, he was setting up a virtual taping of his segment on the TV show The Balancing Act while answering questions from New Times. He says he wants his drive-in Cinco de Mayo to demonstrate there's always light at the end of the tunnel. The chef — who spent 59 days at Miami's Ryder Trauma Center in 2017 after sustaining life-threatening injuries in a violent explosion in Bimini — knows all too well the importance of keeping your spirits up in the face of adversity.
"Now, more than ever, we need to be able to find a bit of joy wherever we can," he says. "The Naked Taco Cinco de Mayo celebration hopefully allows everyone to have a smile and a few tacos while keeping safe."
Naked Taco's Cinco de Mayo Drive-In Edition. 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, at 4443 Lyons Rd., Coconut Creek; lovenakedtaco.com.
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