Here’s the challenge I’ve set for myself this week: head out to a different neighborhood each day and find someplace new for lunch for $7.50 or less. No old favorites (sorry, De Hot Pot, Ba Xuyen and Yun Nan Flavour Garden), no falling back on Chowhound or Cheap Eats recommendations, no vetting places online. The point is to explore.
And so I took the R to 45th Street and strolled up to 5th Ave (past a Dominican spot, duly noted), where every third or fourth storefront is a Mexican restaurant, bakery or grocery store with a lunch counter tucked away. El Comal drew me in with its name (which has sentimental associations from a favorite Central American restaurant in Detroit, now sadly closed) but mainly with the bags of chicharrones and multi-hued jars of agua fresca out front. The menu covered all your standard antojitos (tacos, sopes, tortas and cemitas, etc.). It’s also a bakery, so you can check out the shell-shaped, sugar-dusted sweet breads and cream-filled horns while you wait. If you find such things tempting, be forewarned. (Bakeries are usually dangerous places for me, but I’ve never developed a taste for Mexican pastries, so I was safe here.)
The woman behind the lunch counter won my heart by giving my bad Spanish (“dos tacos de lengua”) the benefit of her doubt. Si, con cebolla y cilantro. Para llevar, gracias.
The fare: soft corn tortillas, piled high with cubes of tongue steamed until the meat was practically melted down, and sprinkled with onion and cilantro. And because I’m indecisive, one container of red sauce and one of green.
The tab: $2.50 per taco. (Tongue is a premium ingredient: who knew? More pedestrian options were $2.00 per taco.)
The ambiance: a row of small tables against the wall in back, religious statues on top of the bakery case, no dine-in customers to be seen. (I had already planned to eat in the park.)
Because lunch was so cheap, I grabbed a melon agua fresca (another $2.50) from the counter out front on my way out. But wait! What is she doing? Is that melon granita she’s scooping into a plastic glass? And then ladling the juice over it? Indeed it was. It was like a combination agua fresca/granizado and it was icy cold, pulpy and delicious.
El Comal, 4711 5th Avenue, Sunset Park, Brooklyn