Meet Me On…Cherokee Street

For a slice of something uniquely St. Louis, Cherokee Street is a destination must. The historic south St. Louis commercial district began to emerge, thanks in large part to the advent of the electric streetcar in the 1890s. When Union Depot Railroad built lines that intersected at Cherokee Street and California Avenue, it was only a matter of time until mom-and-pop stores appeared up and down the street to cater to the commuter crowd.

The area flourished in the first half of the 20th century. It was here that Fred Wehrenberg opened his first theater in 1906. A few years later, F.W. Woolworth and J.C. Penney would set up shop. The landmark Casa Loma Ballroom made its bow in the 1940s. However, the following decades would give Cherokee Street its share of social and economic strife. But the neighborhood has experienced a renaissance of sorts in recent years, with a burgeoning residential community and the addition of hip, new eateries and shops frequented by a diverse sampling of young and old.

Next month, look no further than Cherokee Street to mark Cinco de Mayo. The area west of Jefferson Avenue, dotted with a number of taquerias, specialty food shops and other Latino-owned-and-operated small businesses, is known as “the” place to get authentic Mexican food in St. Louis. Its annual festival draws more than 45,000 people across six city blocks to enjoy food, drink, live music and art in celebration of Hispanic culture.

 

ALONG AND AROUND CHEROKEE STREET

 

Supermercado El Torito 

Searching for nopales or an array of fresh chili peppers? Maybe you need a bulk package of corn tortillas or an entire aisle of Mexican spices and beans. Look no further than El Torito, a supermarket that stocks everything from pots and pans and quinceañera party favors to the entire assortment of Jarritos soda flavors. An added plus is the adjoining Taqueria El Torito, with a walk-up taco stand, as well as a cozy, no-frills dining area. Enjoy your tacos al pastor (highly recommended) with a Mexican Coke. 2753 Cherokee St.

El Chico Bakery

A fixture at local farmers markets, El Chico’s storefront operation is nothing fancy, but the sight of shelves filled with sweet bread, baked fruit pies and giant cookies is enough to mesmerize anyone with a sweet tooth. The bakery’s signature pan dulce, empanadas and tres leches cakes are made using recipes from Mexico. 2634 Cherokee St.

La Vallesana

Can you think of a better combination than freshly made tacos and house-made ice cream? La Vallesana offers the best of both worlds. The taco menu includes the standard fillings, plus cow head, cheek and tongue for the adventurous foodie. Leave room for ice cream and paletas (popsicles), and explore unexpected flavors like corn, avocado, tamarind and guava (our favorite). 2801 Cherokee St.

Casa Loma Ballroom

Put on your dancing shoes and head on over to Casa Loma to show off your dance moves or learn some new ones. The weekends are hopping at this storied dance hall, with live entertainment from top local bands and touring acts. Plus you can’t beat the complimentary dance lessons (sock hop, swing, fox trot, tango – you name it) before the featured band hits the stage. Admission is usually $10 for adults. casalomaballroom.com

Cinco de Mayo on Cherokee Street

11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Saturday, May 6

Cherokee Street between Nebraska and Jefferson avenues

cincodemayostl.com

 

The festival takes place in the heart of Cherokee Street with a variety of free, family-friendly activities throughout the day, including live music on three stages, cultural performances, sports games, face-painting and more. Of course, there’ll be no shortage of food and drink, with plenty of stops to savor a taco (or two), as well as ice-cold cerveza and margaritas.

 

A festival highlight, the People’s Joy Parade, is a colorful, creative procession of crepe paper floats, costumed fashionistas, bike brigades, puppeteers, marching bands, Mexican wrestlers and everything in-between. The parade traditionally begins at 1:11 p.m. at Cherokee Street and Minnesota Avenue.