Sunset Park, Brooklyn: Our First OB Exploration (long)
The title of this thread is a bit of a misnomer, as we've gone to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx on a number of occasions, both to shop for food and to eat, but since that was a known quantity to us before this exploration idea began, I'm not "counting" that - much as I love going there.
So, today was the first installment of our OB exploratory tour, which arises out of a thread I posted back in January, to which many of you graciously responded:
It wasn't as planned as I'd have liked – pretty much last minute this morning, but I'd started to describe banh mi to my husband (which neither of us had eaten at that point) a couple of weeks ago, with particular emphasis on the inclusion of pate and other pork products, to prepare him for the “Let’s go get banh mi today” suggestion. It was made this morning and we decided to drive to Ba Xuyen in Sunset Park for lunch for our first taste. Did some more research on CH and discovered Jim Leff's post on El Palenque:
Also checked out my little-used CH Guide to the Tristate Area and copied the page on Mexican places in Sunset Park. So off we went, through the Battery Tunnel (another first for us) and, undaunted by the fact there was bumper to bumper traffic and that our exit - Exit 23 to 39th Street - was closed, persevered and made our way with some map reading to Ba Xuyen's door. We had no problem finding parking nearby – or elsewhere in Sunset Park for that matter, and the fates were with us with two failed meters.
What a treat in store for us at Ba Xuyen - we had a No. 1 - pate and other pork products, I think including barbecued pork, no spicy sauce, and a No. 7 - the sardines, with spicy sauce. Also had an ice lemon, which turned out to be lemonade - along with a diet coke, bill was about $9.35, the cost of my vodka gimlet at dinner last night! No obstacles in ordering – menu in English as well as Vietnamese. I've cooked Vietnamese food at home, and loved the combination of flavors within the arms of that wonderful crispy yet not chewy bread. We both thought the sandwiches were delicious, with a slight edge to the pork one, and look forward to further experimentation - both of other "fillings" and at other places. They sell quite a few Vietnamese sweets, including some delicious looking candied cashews and what looked like cashew brittle. There were also some items in the refrigerator that I was curious about – wrapped in some kind of leaf, then saran wrap – some the size of a small spring roll, some quite a bit bigger - in case anyone knows what those are.
On the way to Ba Xuyen, I’d noticed a grocery store across the street so we stopped in. My husband is Dominican and I immediately spotted some Dominican brands – and some great Dominican music was being played. They had pretty much every part of the pig packaged and available – stomach, heart, feet, ears. I picked up a nice sized package of fat back for 35 cents – good for pates - and felt compelled to buy a package of chopped up pork neck, about which I will surely post on the Home Cooking board. I'm guessing it would give good flavor to a soup or stew, but for now it has joined the chicken carcasses and shrimp and langoustine shells that started to fall out of the freezer as I stuffed the pork neck in (reminder to self to clean out freezer tomorrow). They also had goat meat for sale.
So, I’d told my husband that our stated objective was banh mi, but when we got back into the car and I mentioned checking out a place for tacos, he was game. We made our way over to 5th Avenue and 44 Street to Tacos Nuevo Mexico III (III is per CH guide –didn’t notice it on the sign). We had the dog out of the car with us this time, so I went in alone to order. I ordered one taco al pastor and one taco with carnitas to go – along with a bottled water for the dog (don’t ask) - it was $4.75, I think. Waited five minutes or so, then took our bag of tacos, which also included a container of hot sauce and some limes, outside. Didn’t use either lime or hot sauce due to technical constraints of eating on sidewalk while I was holding the dog’s leash – husband constrained by fact that for some reason unfathomable to me, he had decided to wear a good shirt with French cuffs for this expedition (not his usual weekend – or weekday for that matter – wear) and was worried about dripping. (There actually was a good reason for this decision, but silly all the same.) Both were excellent and tasty – with a definite edge to the carnitas however – wonderful smoky flavor. In the car about 45 minutes later – more nasty traffic but now in Manhattan – my husband said these were the best tacos he’s ever had in the US and he’s been living here almost thirty years now – and travels quite a bit to Mexico.
By now, we were too full to eat anything else – amateurs, yes, I know – but we did drive by El Palenque and look forward to trying it on another adventure. We realized that we should not have eaten all of our banh mi so that we could have eaten more other things, but I think since this was our first banh mi, we should be excused. We also saw that there is a nice looking park near 44th & 5th Avenue - we could have had a nice picnic there after picking up various things to eat.
So – thanks to all for your suggestions – we ate wonderful food, had a fun time, saw a part of NYC that we’d not seen before, and I’ll start planning next weekend’s adventure now! The other thing that we have realized, in researching our OB explorations, is that of course there are lots of different neighborhoods in each borough to explore - ignorant Manhattanites - but now we know and are looking forward to actual neighborhood adventures, rather than fulfilling our "mission" by going to one place in each borough! I’m having a tough time convincing him to go to Staten Island – neither of us has ever been – so any suggestions on great chow there so that I can lure him would be much appreciated!
Tacos Nuevo Mexico III - 4410 5th Avenue
Ba Xuyen - 4222 8th Avenue