NYC Food Guy’s 200th Post: Revolutionary Sandwich & Authentic Tacos on Sunset Park, Brooklyn Mexican Food Tour

Date April 6, 2009

Pop the Cristal because it’s a celebration and the milestones are two fold. In just over a year NYC Food Guy has reached the 200 post plateau, a formidable task for one man with a limited budget and an unquenchable appetite. And what better way to bring in the bicentennial than with a delicious discovery: Authentic and affordable Mexican food is alive and well and it lives not in Manhattan but in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  It’s the best Mexican food I’ve had since the Red Hook Ball Fields Read on for a revolutionary Mexican sandwich, awesome tacos and learn how to plan your own food tour in unfamiliar territory…

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Tips on Mapping a Food Tour in Unfamiliar Territory

If you’re planning a food tour in New York there are several sites you should check out before embarking. Make sure to copy all the pertinent information you find to a text document, cross-referencing along the way, to focus on suggested dishes that pop up more than once.

  1. Chowhound (http://chowhound.chow.com/boards) – Click an area and search the name of the neighborhood you’re hoping to canvass. While Chowhound has few photos, the food talk is always flowing. It takes patience, however, sifting through some very long text threads, so be prepared.
  2. Serious Eats: NY (http://newyork.seriouseats.com/) – Odds are Ed Levine and his team of food hunters have tapped into the neighborhood you’re heading to. Photos are usually a central feature. You can count on this site to steer you to some good stuff.
  3. Yelp (http://www.yelp.com/nyc) – Once you choose your city, you can get a little more specific in regard to search terms (e.g. “Sunset Park Tacos”, thanks to Yelp’s list feature, should bring up a list of taco places in Sunset Park).
  4. Eating In Translation (http://www.eatingintranslation.com/) – Dave Cook is a food adventurer unlike any person I’ve met before. If anyone has been to that remote neighborhood you’re venturing to, it’s a good bet that person is Mr. Cook. He always provides photos (and a chance to look further on his Flickr page) but doesn’t usually review places, instead he just offers brief commentary.

If all else fails, feel free to email The NYC Food Guy at lawrence@nycfoodguy.com and I’ll try to point you in the right direction. Please give me at least a week’s notice.

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Our Sunset Park Journey Begins

Warm yellow rays of sunshine beam down upon me as I emerge from the N train subway station at 59th Street and 4th Avenue (Google map) and walk east to 5th Avenue to meet Aaron of Always Eating. Any food tour, no matter where it takes place, is more fun with company; you get to eat more and you can draw on both people’s research, creating a bigger list of eating destinations.

Tulcingo Restaurant & Bakery

5520 5th Avenue b/t 55th & 56th street
Brooklyn, NY 11220 (Google Map)

718-439-2896, 718-439-2897
Free Delivery, Credit Card Accepted
Waitress service, Beer Served

Our first order at this expansive yet informal restaurant featured three tightly wrapped tacos accompanied by room temperature sauteed green onions, mild chiles and sliced radishes. With the exception of the arabes, the other two tacos were double-tortilla, adorned with guacamole, chopped onion and cilantro. The carne asada taco was quality, juicy and flame broiled.

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Left to right: arabes (lamb) ($2.50), carne asada ($2.25) and lengua (tongue) ($2.50).

The arabes was the first star of the day. Steaming hot, tender lamb rolled tightly into a tortilla larger and heartier than that of the tacos. The char-broiled meat was the clear flavor in the first few bites but danger was lurking deeper as the ominous single red pepper seed foretells.

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Arabes (lamb) taco cross section

Lying stealthily, waiting to pounce on our taste buds is a pasty, deep red chile sauce that’s initial smokey flavor resonates even after the heat from the chile seeds take over. I strongly recommend the arabes taco.

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The smokey chile sauce & tender lamb stole the show

The lengua, or beef tongue taco, was overflowing with juicy, fatty and tender meat with a flavor strongly reminiscent of brisket. The onions cut through the beefiness of the tongue well but I didn’t love this taco.

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The tongue taco was juicy & tender but didn't impress

Ricos Tacos – Piaxtla es Mexico Deli (Open 24 Hours)

505 51st Street near 5th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11220 (Google Map)
718-633-4816
Free Delivery

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Ricos Tacos, also called Piaxtla, popped up on most of the lists I referred to prior to our tour.  A mural of a pig in a cauldron greets you on 51st street, foreshadowing a pork-filled experience.

After being greeted by this sign, how could we not get pork?

After being greeted by this sign, how could we not get pork?

The most common recommendation was for taquitos ($1.50 to $2.00),  which oddly enough were similarly priced but smaller versions of the tacos especiales ($2.00), the standard full size, double tortilla taco.

Carnitas (fried pork) taco especiales (top), carnitas (bot. left) & enchilada (spicy pork, bot. right) taquitos

Carnitas (fried pork) taco especiales (top), carnitas (bot. left) & enchilada (spicy pork, bot. right) taquitos

The cilantro and chopped onion covering the fatty carnitas taquito ($1.50) wasn’t enough to enhance the underwhelming flavor of the meat.

A fatty and not so flavorful carnitas taquito

A fatty and not so flavorful carnitas taquito

The spicy enchilada pork taquito ($1.50) was better equipped to offer stand alone flavor although the heat was lacking.

The enchilada (spicy pork) taquito was flavorful but not spicy

The enchilada (spicy pork) taquito was flavorful but not spicy

Neither salsa really packed much of a punch either.

Tasty but uninspired salsas

Tasty but uninspired salsas

After returning home and reassessing our tour, I started noticing praise for Ricos torta, which I will try upon returning.  One redeeming characterisitc, other than Rico’s 24-hours of operation, is that only three items on the menu, all involving shrimp, cost over $10.00.

Tacos Matamoros

4508 Fifth Avenue b/t 45th & 46th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11220 (Google Map)

(718) 871-7627
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Tacos Matamoros has the classiest facade in the neighborhood, so it was a relief to find a typically informal atmosphere inside.  Huge platters of food topped every table and it was a surprise to the waitress when we ordered just three tacos.

Don't judge a book by it's cover, this turned out to be a perfect amount of guacamole.

Don't judge a book by it's cover, this turned out to be a perfect amount of guacamole.

Tacos Matamoros set themselves apart from the pack again by toasting their double tortillas, adding some welcome structure to a taco overflowing with griddled meat, guacamole, cilantro and onion.

The chorizo taco ($1.75) was delicious.  The slightly spicy sausage was crisp but tender and sweet with just a tiny bite.

Chorizo is definitely the way to go at Tacos Matamoros

Chorizo is definitely the way to go at Tacos Matamoros

We also ordered an al pastor taco ($1.25), spit-fired pork with pineapple, but what arrived was closer to carnitas ($1.25, below), griddled, lean pork devoid of  any flavor at all, probably due to lack of fat.

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Make sure to order al pastor, not carnitas.

Tacos Xochimilco Restaurant – Home of the Pambazo, A Revolutionary Sandwich & My Favorite Part of This Food Tour

4501 5th Avenue at 45th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11220 (Google Map)
718-435-7600
Free Delivery
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We arrived at Tacos Xochimilco quite full but in a true testament to our mission and the power of preparation, I had to investigate an intriguing sandwich called a “pambazo.” I had only seen this pop up once or twice while researching the food tour and I was intrigued.

We know about tortas, pressed heroes with jalapeno, sliced avacado, queso blanco, mayo, lettuce, and meat, and we also know about cemitas, sesame egg buns with chipotle pepper, onion, refried beans, spicy papalo leaf, Oaxaca cheese, sliced avacado, and meat.  But pambazo is a totally different breed.

Pambazo ($6.00), a sandwich unlike any I've had before.

Pambazo ($6.00), a sandwich unlike any I've had before.

Refried beans, spicy pork, cubes of spicy, soft potato, sharp queso fresca, and lettuce are all wedged between two halves of a club roll that is then painted with red sauce and pressed to create a spicy and sticky outer coating of deliciousness.  Intense, and unlike any sandwich I’ve ever seen before or since. Chaos between two pieces of bread finds order upon reaching your taste buds, new flavors and textures abound with every bite. It’s the everlasting gobstopper of Mexican sandwiches.

"Chaos between two pieces of bread

"Chaos between two pieces of bread finds order upon reaching your taste buds."

It was hard to enjoy anything else after this revolutionary sandwich, but we still managed to try a very tasty flame-grilled carne asada taco ($2.50) doused in queso crema and sprinkled with queso fresca, creating a little flavor trip of its own.

The carne asada taco's combo of queso crema and fresca provided a flavor trip of its own.

The carne asada taco's combo of queso crema and fresca provided a flavor trip of its own.

Another redeeming characteristic of Tacos Xochimilco is that the hot sauce was actually hot as you can see from the chile seeds floating in the thick, deep red sauce below.

Beware the hot sauce.

Beware the hot sauce.

Guerrero Food Center

722 5th Avenue at 23rd Street
Brooklyn, NY 11215 (Google Map)
718-499-8635
nyc-food-guy-dot-com-084

Our post-pambazo food coma put us close to critical mass so we decided to aid our digestion with a little 20 block walk south to the Guerrero Food Center where we opted for a surprisingly authentic take on a classic dish, the quesadilla.  Guerrero Food Center is more than just a taqueria, it’s also a marketplace for all types of Mexican ingredients and produce, as you can see below:

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Everything from ginger (bot. left) to cactus leaves (top right).

We opted for the flor de calabaza (squash blossom) quesadilla ($3.00) which arrived as a freshly fried pocket of dough, stuffed with salty and stringy Oaxaca cheese, queso crema, queso fresca, lettuce, a bright and spicy salsa verde, and squash blossoms.  The overly greasy dough lacked the structure to support the weight and moisture of all the ingredients and as a result was pretty soggy in the middle.  The only way to attack this quesadilla without making a total mess is fork and knife.  The best  parts of this quesadilla were the Oaxaca cheese and the salsa verde, I’d be happy with nothing more than those two ingredients next time.

A quesadilla unlike anything we've seen before.

A quesadilla unlike anything we've seen before.

Next time I go to Guerrero Food Center I’ll make sure to leave room for the nortena torta filled with chorizo, steak, lettuce, tomato, jalapenos, onions, mayo and cheese.

Next stop: Nortena Torta!

Next stop: Nortena Torta!

And to prove there’s more going on inside the NYC Food Guy’s mind than just food, take a look at this photo peering down 23rd street on the side of Guerrero Food Center. Does that lady in the distance look familiar?

Lady Liberty looks hungry.

Lady Liberty looks like she could use a taco.

Butcher Shops & Bakeries

There are a multitude of both butcher shops and bakeries lining Sunset Park. We peeked our heads into a few of them and the two shops below really stood out.

New Public Meat Market

5021 5th Ave at 50th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11220 (Google Map)
718-871-1188

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This narrow butcher shop lured us in with its window offerings…

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But intrigued us with its wide array of meats…

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It’s diverse offering of authentic spices…

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And its copious amounts of dried poblano and red chile peppers, ideal for making moles, sauces, stews and soups…

Ancho Chile Peppers

Dried Poblano Peppers

Dried red chile peppers

Dried red chile peppers

If that’s not enough to entice you to buy everything you’d need to make a great Mexican meal, New Public Market will make the meal for you. If you give them a week’s notice, they’ll roast you a 25-pound suckling pig for a little over $100.

Las Conchitas Bakery

4811 5th Ave. b/t 49th & 50th Streets
Brooklyn, NY 11220 (Google Map)
718-437-5513
nyc-food-guy-dot-com-040

The smell of baking bread and cake led us into Las Conchitas like a plume of smoke in a Tom & Jerry cartoon.  The smell of delicious breads, pastries and desserts became even stronger the further inside we walked.  We didn’t actually eat anything because we wanted to save room for tacos but of the 5-10 bakeries we stepped into, Las Conchitas was the only one that gave off the scent of freshly baked goods.

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34 Responses to “NYC Food Guy’s 200th Post: Revolutionary Sandwich & Authentic Tacos on Sunset Park, Brooklyn Mexican Food Tour”

  1. Brooke said:

    Love this post – I live pretty close to some of these place – can’t wait to try them out.

  2. PepperMan said:

    200!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Where the party at?

  3. Best View in Brooklyn said:

    I’m glad Xochimilco was on your tour. It’s one of my favorite places. I’m surprised about your experience regarding the dearth of “freshly baked goods” scents. I suppose it depends on their schedules. Believe me, they are almost all a pleasure to walk by – and stop in to. Don Paco and the tiny panaderias on 5th are also very good.

    I’m sure you’ll be back at some point to check out other places. Enjoy.

  4. Mary I said:

    I live 30 blocks north of most of these places and have never been. Thanks to your post I can remedy that soon. Nice work once again and congrats on #200!

  5. Robin said:

    All looks fantastic, I just discovered your blog and am moving from Ireland to New York in two weeks, all this info is absolutely awesome for me since I don’t know NYC at all but I love mexican food.
    Have you any recommendations for eateries around the W 16th st area of midtown?

  6. moe said:

    you did it again

    thank you,
    moe

  7. jill said:

    wow food guy your the best congrats…hope you can get some dough for such important info!!!!

  8. jill said:

    great job food guy!

  9. Before Sunrise said:

    Great choice for the 200th post. Congratulations! This really looks great, now I know where to get a decent taco.

  10. FN said:

    Good stuff! I have been to about half these places and agree with you – it is pretty good across the board!

  11. Mike V. said:

    Great post. I live in San Diego, so I know from the best Mexican food to be had and just about all that you featured looks pretty damn good.
    If I moved to NY, I think I would have to move to that neighborhood in Brooklyn because there’s no way I can live without cheap, awesome tacos!

  12. stevenp said:

    *drool* And congrats on 200!

  13. City Girl said:

    CONGRATULATIONS on 200 posts. :) Whenever I read your blog I miss NYC, but I know exactly what I am missing thanks to all your details – somehow that makes it better.

  14. fivefingerfeast said:

    Thanks for the rundown! Yesterday, my bf introduced me to a great taco place here in Williamsburg called Superior. The tacos are small, but $2.50 each (not bad). My favorite was shrimp in chipotle sauce. You have to try ‘em!

    This is a great post, but I have to admit, I wish it was another VIDEO!!

  15. Mona said:

    You should have told me you were coming into Bklyn! You missed a great one- Tacos Nuevos on 5th Ave and 12th street. I know it’s more in the Park Slope area but it’s just as traditional and delish as you can get.

  16. Jimmy D said:

    Great taco review food guy, and great video from the other day, just watched it and you were terrific. keep up the good work, we all appreciate it

  17. Emily said:

    Best View In Brooklyn pointed me to your site and i’m very happy I read this post. We live right here in SP and we’ve only tried one of the local restaurants with bad results. But now I know where to go! Can’t wait to get some lengua. Te agradezco!

  18. AG said:

    I was wondering when you were going to post this! Good eating all around. Between the two of us I think we did Sunset Park good.

    http://always-eating.blogspot.com/2009/03/tacos-galore-in-sunset-park.html

  19. Shelly Borrell said:

    Congratulations on your milestone — I thoroughly enjoy your blog. I’m ready for another 200 delicious posts with great photos

    Shelly,
    Nibbles of Tidbits

  20. Insatiable Desire for Aliment said:

    NYC Food Guy, I have been following your blog for some time now, and have actually made an attempt to visit as many of the places you recommend as I can. However, this is the first time I have ever posted a response to your delicious rants.

    I was very excited to see that you visited my “hood” and discovered a few of the dining gems in Sunset Park. I am hoping you will return in the very near future and take a trip to 8th Ave. and try the Chinese food, or more specifically try “Hunan Flavor Snack Shop,” which I believe provides one of the greatest additions to Chinese delicacy in NYC, their hot and sour dumpling soup. I don’t know if it’s just the food or the fact that the two owners are insanely nice people and make you feel like you are a part of the family, but either way I can’t seem to stop myself from being over there at least twice a week.

    Here’s hoping we see you in our neck of the woods again soon!

    P.S. Have you ever had a group food tour? I, for one, wouldn’t mind following you around to a bunch of your select favorites.

  21. Hidden Track » Friday for the Foodies: Anthony Bourdain, the Authors at Google Interview said:

    [...] Food Guy takes us on a tour of some of Sunset Park’s best Mexican Food for his 200th [...]

  22. My Two Cents: Week of April 13th, 2009 « Crabapple said:

    [...] a new art center around the corner from my apartment. NYC Food Guy celebrates his 200th post by Eating Brooklyn. And Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York reports on the loss of another NYC icon, Chelsea Court [...]

  23. meat.pro is meat you can’t beat » Where are America's Best Tacos? - Brooklyn's Sunset Park vs. Austin, Texas said:

    [...] for most everyone. This Slashfoodie’s recent move to Austin, Texas, after residing in the taco mecca of Sunset Park, Brooklyn for three years has led him to sample Lone Star State tacos whenever possible. Naturally, a mano a [...]

  24. Brendan Byrne said:

    Reasonably well done sir, the glaring exception being the omission of the omnipresent taco truck just outside the 59th street N stop. Their tacos al pastor at $2 ($1.50 if you speak better than gringo spanish) can compete with anyone’s. While I’m not a fan of Coors the nearest tienda sells a 24 oz can for $.99 and for us smokers this truck is only a block away from a bar that serves a $4 Guinness and the ability to enjoy it inside with a cigarette.

  25. Michael Comeau said:

    I recommend that everyone try the Tacos El Bronco cart on the corner of 43rd Street and 5th Avenue. It only opens up at night but the fact that there is always a crowd outside speaks volumes.

  26. Epicurean Exploits » Blog Archive » Taco Tour said:

    [...] was inspired by Lawrence of NYC Food Guy who did a taco tour early last spring to do a tour of my own. It took a while to reserve a day, but I finally got a [...]

  27. laura said:

    great post. trying to figure out where to go today and seems like i have a huge number of choices!

  28. pambazo mexican sandwich at tacos xochimilco in sunset park | cherrypatter nyc- spot-on ideas for food, shops and things to do in new york said:

    [...] south and venture down 5th avenue to the heart of mexican food in new york.   inspired by new york food guy’s excellent assessment of the options, i headed for tacos xochimilco and ordered the pambazo, or a [...]

  29. Microcosm K said:

    I’m adding the Pambazo to the food itinerary for my trip to the city next month. You’d better not let me down, NYC Food Guy!

  30. Lady Byrd said:

    Next time you’re in Sunset Park, I highly recommend checking out Ines Bakery on 36th and 4th. I am highly addicted to their bistec tacos. And at $2 each (and open 24 hours), it’s hard to not go there daily for a triple dose.

    Thanks for the tip on the Meat Market. I was wondering where a decent one was around here.

  31. Michelle said:

    excellent food blog – especially the entries on Mexican food. I took copious notes on the Red hook taco trucks and walked over there last weekend. I found the truck you mentioned and ordered the huaraches you recommended… followed by a cold Horachata. Next up – Sunset Park Mexican food tour with some friends. muchas gracias!

  32. Chris said:

    The Pambazo at Xochimilco is definitely a jewel. I’ve had some great mexican (mexico style) food here in the city. That Pambazo reminds me of something I’d end up finding in Mexico on accident and realize how amazing Mexican food is all over again. Everyone should try that messy, delicious sandwich.

    Awesome post on mexican food in Brooklyn BTW. Thanks for sharing.

  33. The New Gastronomes » A “10 dollar” New York Food Guide for My Fellow Gastronomes said:

    [...] This might help: http://nycfoodguy.com/2009/04/06/sunset_park_brooklyn_mexican_food_tour/ [...]

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