I knew, in a general way, that there were a lot of taquerias in Bushwick, and that you could find freshly-made tortillas there, as well. But living so close to Sunset Park has spoiled me for choices, and Bushwick is kind of out of my way, and I wasn’t sure which streets had the taquerias and which the annoyingly young, beautiful and hip people . . . and so I procrastinated.
Until last week.
Getting to the taco-dense sections of Bushwick from where I live in Park Slope is a pain by public transportation – you have to go into Manhattan in order to go back into Brooklyn – but a joy by bike. My route traversed multiple Brooklyn neighborhoods, kept me on bike lanes most of the way, and gave me an abundance of Citibike docking opportunities if I so chose. Car traffic was blessedly light.
Why don’t I do this more often, I asked myself, as I passed congressional/mayoral candidate Paperboy Prince’s Love Gallery and “futurism incubator” and some self-referential street art, the M train rumbling overhead?
On this first, tentative foray, I played it safe and headed for the Santa Ana Deli on the basis of a glowing review by Robert Sietsema, whose knowledge of the city and enthusiasm for its food I respect immensely. That’s how I knew that tacos placeros were the thing to order, and did not allow myself to be distracted by the sign trumpeting the excellence of their quesadillas. I was particularly keen to try Santa Ana’s version of these overstuffed market tacos because my favorite source in Green-Wood Heights closed several years ago, leaving me bereft.
One chile relleno taco later, I had a new favorite. If you’re not familiar with tacos placeros, a few words of explanation are in order. These aren’t minimalist tacos that you can devour two or three or more at a sitting. These are full meals: a plate-sized corn tortilla heaped with rice and some type of more or less elaborate filling. It could be a chile relleno, a stew of some sort, or, on the “less elaborate” end of the spectrum, hard boiled eggs (oh, how I miss that simple lunch at Puebla de los Angeles). The rice and the tortilla, along with copious amounts of salsa, can elevate a simple filling or camouflage a mediocre one. So there was really no need for my chile relleno to be prepared with such care . . . and yet, it was. Fried to order, crisp on the outside, tasting intensely of charred poblano chile, concealing a non-excessive amount of cheese, this would have been, if eaten on its own, my platonic ideal of a chile relleno. And here it was in a taco with the works!
I still mourn Puebla de los Angeles for the sweetness of its proprietor and her exemplary avocado salsa, but I now mourn it with a belly full of chile relleno taco.
. . .
Today I returned to Bushwick with the intention of checking out a bodega/taqueria I’d passed on my earlier visit. It was the kind of place I love: small, family-run, and with an impressive list of Poblano specialties on its menu. Alas, I interrupted the owners and their kids eating lunch in a dark room with a puddle of water on the floor. Their cooler was undergoing repairs, and the kitchen was closed.
So where to go? I walked Knickerbocker Avenue, noting various Ecuadorian restaurants for future reference, and finally, desperately, ducked into a storefront whose name was hard to discern from the exuberance of its signs. Was it “Tacos Mexicanos”? “Viva Mexico”? “Free Delivery”?
It was, I later determined, Leo’s Restaurant . . . or maybe Leo’s Tacos. I liked the fact that they had tacos de buche, but not enough to order them. I stuck with a single barbacoa taco and lowered my expectations. In Sunset Park, barbacoa de chivo (goat) is generally a weekend special, and here it was, Tuesday. Would I be eating 2-day old meat?
Waiting for my order, I watched a chirpy Spanish-language news broadcast that informed me today was the longest day of the year and educated me on the history of the selfie.
I took my taco to nearby Maria Hernandez Park, and ate it while watching the skateboarders do tricks. Despite my doubts, or perhaps because of them, it was delicious. The goat was gamy in a good way, as goat should be, and the fatty edges carried a crispy char. There was more than enough chunky meat to justify the $4.50 price tag (the reason I only ordered one).
Bushwick, you’ll be seeing more of me.
Featured in this post:
Santa Ana Deli, 171 Irving Av, Bushwick
Leo’s Tacos, 207 Knickerbocker Av, Bushwick