Sunset Park Mexican Report
Finally got a chance to stroll around the heart of the Mexican part of Sunset Park. I first wanted to check out La Flor Bakery on 5th and 41st to get a hold of a pambazo de tinga that Jim Leff had talked about. However, when I asked about them, they told me they don't make them. I asked if it's a special item, but the woman I asked had no idea about it, so I'm sorry to report that as far as I know, no pambazos here.
While I did want to sample some items here, pambazos were too heavy on my mind, so my chowbuddy and I continued our journey another block further on 5th Ave to find a place called La Flor de Piaxtla. Since La Flor is also part of the name of this place, I wondered if this was the pambazo place. I asked, but alas no pambazos here either. However, the place had a nice vibe. There's no menu aside from a handwritten card, and some signs over the back kitchen/counter area (where you can make takeout orders). This is a standard antojitos joint, with weekend specials. We ordered lengua (tongue) tacos and gorditas with chicharrones. The lengua here was one of the best versions I've had in NYC. The gordita was also quite good, but fairly standard comparable with many of my Jackson Heights places.
Onward down 5th Avenue, we passed by Tacos Nuevos Mexico III just when they were putting in a fresh new pile of al pastor onto the vertical spit. We took a mental note to pass by later when it gets a chance to cook. This got my chowbud and I talking about Tacos Nuevo Mexico I in Park Slope, which he likes and I am lukewarm about. If the one we passed is III, and I is in the Slope, where's II? My chowbud swears by the Oaxacan tamales at Tacos Nuevo Mexico I, and we were talking about tamales, when in the corner of my eye, I saw Ricos Tamale stand (which was the second reason I wanted to check out Sunset park).
The awning that covers the stand says "La Guera", but we all know this place as Ricos Tamales. I wanted to see for myself that there are banana leaf covered Oaxacan tamales in NYC. The ones in Queens are the standard central/northern Mexican style of tamale in corn husks. Well, as many others have reported, these tamales are tremendous. As we sat in the park devouring them, my chowbud was duly impressed and I fear that henceforth, he won't be able to go to Tacos Nuevo Mexico I for these and be fully satisfied. We washed these messy mole tamales down with agua fresca de limon (lemon/lime water), which were very good.
Pressing further down 5th Ave, we peeked inside a couple Dominican cuchifritos places that looked mighty good, but neither of us were in the mood for these heavier items, but made sure to keep these places in mind for a later visit. Around here, I noticed a latino boy (about 6 years old?) wearing a Chowhound T-shirt. It looks like we're infiltrating the locals. Seeing this raised my chow optimism further.
We were looking for that one last item that could surpass the al pastor we saw earlier. The only other place that could have that draw was Ricos Tacos on 51st, where I noticed a good looking al pastor spit going as well. But we passed on this place and decided to go with our first instinct and do the al pastor at Tacos Nuevo Mexico III. I'm pretty picky about my al pastor and there's only a handful of places in NYC that passes muster for me, and I'm glad to report that this is one of them (while TNM I does not). The charring and the slicing of the marinated meat are essential texturally and the bits of pineapple rounded out the flavor of the meat.
All in all, it was a very productive afternoon. My earlier disappointment over not finding my pambazos brightened considerably over the course of the day. One final note about my trek through this Sunset Park neighborhood is that I noticed the word "Piaxtla" quite a bit. Rico's Taco's menu says "Piaxtla es Mexico Deli" for example. A preliminary Google search reveals that Piaxtla is the name of a river in Mexico, and I'm guessing that the use of that name may represent the geographical origins of many of the Mexicans in Sunset park.
Dont sleep on the the chicken with salsa verde tamales @ Rico's/La Guerra. A slight bit better than the Oaxacan ones in my opinion. Also, hit up the lady on the corner of 47th street & 5th Ave for some amazing cheap street food. The gorditas are perfect for eating while walking, Fried goodness - chicken or pork, topped with the works wrapped neatly like a falafel, perfect cheap snack ($2.50).
One little place I never hear anyone review - Cinco Estrellas on 5th and 58th
It was a sad lil diner a couple years ago.
I grew up in Massachusetts in complete ignorance of Mexican food, but the popular opinion taught me it was absolute garbage - the trash that all the other nations of the world throw away - refried beans are leftovers, etc.
But, recognizing my ignorance for what it is, I've held out for good Mexican - trying this, nibbling that, waiting for the good stuff to educate me.
The first Mexican (excuse me if it isn't technically Mexican; I in my ignorance am not sure) food to please me is Cinco Estrellas. The mole tastes like I hoped it would when I read mole recipes. The ingredients seem so fresh. Nothing seems greasy. And the place is so doggone cheap!
An special not listed on the menu are these cemitas poblano - spicy sandwiches with cilantro, avocados, chicken or beef grilled or fried, something that might be sundried tomatoes, some slightly spicy sauce and a plain cheese a bit like fresh mozz - served on these big crumbly rolls with sesame seeds. The sandwiches are wrapped in white paper before they are sliced, possibly to keep the rolls from disintegrating. FOUR BUCKS, and not small, either. SO GOOD.
So I'm stoppoing there several times a week, wandering nomadically through their menu, and I have yet to order one thing that hasn't delighted me. Tasty chicken mole (tasty to me, but what do I know), rich and savory stewed chicken, fun tacos two for four bucks with rice and beans and a lil salad, and a pleasantly oily octopus salad when I'm feeling conscious of my health. Oh, and a simple grilled chicken breast sandwich that's busting with flavor.
Meanwhile, my gustatorially backwards boyfriend loves their chicken fingers and their french toast.
A great place if you gotta feed two people for ten bucks total! Nice waitresses, too.
My most recent favorite at Cinquo Estrellas is caldo de cameron: spicy shrimp soup. You sip the broth, then wrap the shrimp in tortillas, heads and all. Unconventionally crunchy! Again, $5.95 -- very satisfying. Wash it down with a virgin pina colada, $2.50.
I wish I didn't love this place so much. It keeps interrupting my ongoing study of SPEEDY'S PLACE on 4th Ave at 59th Street.
Eric, This was the best report I've reead in many a moon. Makes me wanna hope on the subway now and get some Mole Tamales. MMM. I think Piaxtla is the name of a town. In Chicago and LA many of the Mexican places have their place of Origin in the name of the store or restaurant. Hence, el Rincon d Guerro or Tostadas Oaxaca. You know NYC is moving up in the great world of Mexican food when we start to get places like those you wrote up.
quite an interesting report. Thanks! I still have to get to Rico's Tamales. Drove past one time and missed seeing it. My wife has been, but she doesn't like mole. Is that Oaxacan and/or the only type they have?
As far as the tamales at Tacos Nuevo Mexico I, they are wrapped in corn husks and not banana leaf, but they are pretty good for the tamales you can get around Park Slope that I've seen.
And speaking of Park Slope tamales (my favorite subject anyway), I did run into the tamale lady yet again in C-Town early on saturday morning. She had her same blue cooler with a good number of tamales inside, and was selling them to the workers from within the store. I asked her what her schedule was and all I could get out of her was Saturday and Wednesday. I took that to mean at C-Town, but who knows.
Lastly, there's been a few posts on the Manhattan board about a wandering tamale lady peaking into stores on 2nd ave. in the 30s and yelling TAMALES! Wondering if its the same person....
As the aforementioned chow buddy, I can vouch that TNM does, indeed, serve up Oaxacan Tamales on Sundays, and they are good, but not quite as good as the "La Guera" ones, which are transcendent, though very messy. I have two in my fridge right now waiting for me. MMM!
They are not filled with what most of us gringos call mole(no cocoa), so fear not, though it probably falls under the broad mole rubric. Anyway, it's at 5th around 45th or 46th, it's an orange metal stand just off the SE corner. The lime Agua Fresca was also amazing, as Eric noted.
I agree with Eric on the al pastor at TNM III, although my faves at TNM I are the tortas and especially the salsa they serve with the chips, wich is green, red, chunky, and irresistible. I for Tortas, III for Al Pastor.
Can't wait to return on a cuchifritos hunt.