Towering above Brooklyn like a miniature Schlossberg, Sunset Park was THE place to find cooler temperatures and natural breezes in yesterday’s disgusting pre-thunderstorm climate. Seems like too few of those in the neighborhood knew it, too, as the west-facing side of the park, with its panoramic views from Staten Island to Downtown Brooklyn and the distant Empire State building, was not nearly as crowded as I would have expected. Though I didn’t stay long (no umbrella and weather rolling in meant I went back to my sweaty apartment and sulked), it was the only time I’ve felt human sans air conditioning in the last week and a half.
Yes, Virginia, I was inspired to return to Sunset Park by my bus trip through the area Monday night. A neighborhood where the taqueria has seemingly replaced the diner as meeting point and budget dining option is my kind of place, and my visit was in many ways long overdue. I too long lamented the lack of good Mexican in NYC without actually going to the Mexican neighborhood one stop away on the train – duh.
I ate at Tacos Matamoros, where neighborhood residents dropped in for a Styrofoam cup of water, take-out, or just to hang out with their friends for a minute before heading up to the park’s pool, courts, or informal-but-intense soccer games. I suppose some, like the older man in the corner, were even there to ogle the servers, who dress more like cocktail waitresses.
I was there for the tacos, though, and when I perused the menu, I was shocked to find that most of the tacos were a buck each. Remembering a long-ago Chowhound post, I thought that there was a good chance that these were actually mini-tacos, and I ordered a quartet of them accordingly.
As the plate arrived, I knew I had guessed correctly – the tortillas were about the size of a compact disc (remember those?) and came with about half the filling of one normal-sized taco. But, brilliantly, this size adjustment had enabled me to sample four different fillings: al pastor, suadero, tongue, and chorizo. Tongue was obviously the outlier here, as I had never tried it before. If you ignore the total lack of visual appeal, it actually tastes pretty good, and has a perfectly acceptable texture – they must marinate it, as it tastes very little like the pickled tongue I’ve had on sandwiches before.
The suadero was considerably more chunky than I recall Guerreros’ being, and without that taqueria’s sublime, melt-in-your-mouth flavor. The al pastor was better, and I took a small pan-cultural thrill from seeing the spinning gyro-style skewer in the back (apparently introduced to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants!), but the lack of fruit and thrilling marinade didn’t thrill me. It’s unlikely the chorizo was cooked fresh (a la Pio Maya on a lucky day), but it was probably my favorite of the fillings. Make sure and lean over your plate, as the greasy meat juices will not be contained by your tortilla.
$6 later (tax and tip included), I was on my merry way to the park. For the price, it’s really hard to complain, but when I know that Guerreros lies twenty blocks closer to home and is SUBLIME rather than merely good, my loyalty has not been challenged. Further neighborhood investigations are definitely necessary.
Some additional commentary on Sunset Park, the neighborhood: the area around the park, particularly on the 7th Avenue side, is really nice. If I were a real estate investor, I’d be so much more apt to buy in this neighborhood than Bushwick, for instance – the housing stock has obviously been well maintained, and the train options (9th Avenue/37th Street D, 4th Avenue/36th Street D/N/R/M, etc.) are, in my opinion, superior. (As you get over to 9th Avenue, things start to look a bit more ragged, but not overwhelmingly so.) Besides, where else are you going to have a Chinatown about three blocks from Little Mexico? Fascinating place.