Taco Tuesday: Mexico City

Salsas awaiting their tacos

Eric and I arrived in Mexico City yesterday afternoon. In our first 24 hours in the city, we consumed tacos al pastor; de arrachera; de costillas con nopales…not to mention tostadas topped with a startling variety of sea creatures.

All in the interest of research, of course.

Here, then, are some taco highlights.

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Taco Tuesday: tacos de cabeza from the Tacos El Bronco truck

Please don’t treat this as some sort of “bizarre foods” gross-out post. The “head” in tacos de cabeza doesn’t stare back at you or anything like that. It’s nothing more than shreds of meat painstakingly removed from the head of a roasted animal, then steamed to melting tenderness.

Nothing more, but also nothing less; while I normally go for strong flavors and crunch and char, I’ve come to appreciate the unadorned, unctuous meatiness of cabeza. It’s my go-to order from the Tacos El Bronco truck stationed on Fifth Av between 37th and 38th streets, across from the Jackie Gleason Bus Depot in Sunset Park. Taking advantage of a thaw in the weather and (mostly) clear sidewalks, that’s where I went for lunch today.

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Finally, Defonte’s

It was long past embarrassing – approaching shameful – to have lived in Brooklyn for the better part of a decade without once crossing the threshold of Defonte’s Sandwich Shop. I have no excuse: not ignorance (Defonte’s was a favorite of the old Outer Boroughs Chowhound board, which I used to read avidly); not convenience (it’s a bit out of the way, but I run and bike close by often enough); not lack of hunger (obviously).

Yesterday, at last, I remedied that.

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Taco Tuesday, Tucson edition (with burros)

Definitely a burro, not a burrito

Burros – along with their diminutive (at least in name) cousins, burritos – have always struck me as problematic. They’re invariably overstuffed, often grotesquely so. When they’re not dry, they’re drowning in goopy sauce and (horrors) cheese. Worst of all is the dreaded burrito fold, confronting the eater with double or triple or quadruple layers of gummy flour tortilla.

But Eric and I are in Tucson this week, and Tucson is the land of flour tortillas, where chimichangas were born and burros reign supreme. As the saying goes: when in Rome, do as the Sonorenses do.

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Taco Tuesday: Coney Island consolation breakfast

It started with a quest to see a bird; it ended with a search for a different bird, and a takeout container of tacos on the F train.

But I’m getting ahead of the story. When I left the apartment early this morning, headed for the R train, I had visions of glory. That Sandhill Crane that’s been reported several times at the Dyker Beach Golf Course, always vanishing before others could lay eyes on it? I would find it. Maybe I’d even manage to document it with my handy iPhone camera.

Ha! You know who gets up even earlier than birders (or at least this birder)? Golfers, that’s who. By the time I had surfaced at 86th St and jogged west to the golf course, multiple foursomes were already well into their games. The idea that a freakishly large, long-legged bird would still be out there grazing in the short grass began to seem a bit farfetched.

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Taco Tuesday (except with quesadillas)

I’ve been to the small Sunset Park bakery called La Flor de Izucar before; I’ve even blogged about it. But when I heard they were serving birria, and that their birria was good, I had to pay them a return visit. In the interest of research, I stopped by a few weeks ago and confirmed that their birria quesadillas were both excellent and enormous. “I should come here with Eric,” I thought at the time. Today, I did.

We mounted CitiBikes and then pedaled our way south, dodging delivery trucks and double-parked cars on Fifth Avenue, sucking in lungfuls of smoke-fouled air (western wildfires continue to be felt here on the east coast), and generally risking dehydration and heat exhaustion under a relentless sun. Once my mind is set on birria, I will not be denied.

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Mazzola Bakery

Fifty Favorite Places #22
In 1928, when Nicolo Mazzola opened a bakery at the corner of Henry and Union streets in what was then called South Brooklyn, the neighborhood was well into its transition from Irish to Italian. Both groups were driven by hunger – the potato famine, the almost feudal poverty of the Mezzogiorno – and drawn by the lure of jobs along Brooklyn’s developing waterfront. Today, the area has been re-dubbed Carroll Gardens, and it’s pretty thoroughly gentrified. Judging by what one sees and hears on the street, intimidatingly stylish and attractive young families from France are now the biggest immigrant group. But traces of older waves remain. There are the fig trees brought as seedlings from Sicily or Campania, replanted in Brooklyn gardens, wrapped and coddled through half a century of harsh winters, and still bearing fruit today. There are old school barber shops and funeral homes with unmistakably Italian names. There’s the Cittadini Molesi social club, the last of its kind. There’s the church where Al Capone was married. There are front yards like the one pictured below.

A Carroll Gardens classic

And there’s Mazzola Bakery – still in its original location and still family-owned, though since 1980 that family has not been the Mazzolas but the Caravellos.

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Tepoztlán

IMG_7991 (2)50 Favorite Places #13

A short, scenic bus ride from Mexico City’s Taxqueña bus terminal, Tepoztlán is part traditional Mexican town, and part new age retreat.  It’s the kind of place where the central market offers both chapulines and gluten-free baked goods, where you can relax by chugging down micheladas or undergoing a hot stone massage, and where you can indulge in a pre-hispanic vegan menu or share giant skewers of grilled shrimp (distance from the coast be damned).

Tepoztlán’s primary claim to fame – aside from its beautiful natural setting and general charm – is Tepozteco, a peak topped with a small pyramid dedicated to Tepotezcatl, the god who brought pulque to humankind. His mother was the goddess of the maguey plant, and his father discovered fermentation, so it was only natural that Tepotezcatl would draw on this lineage to ferment maguey sap into a tart, viscuous drink. (I’ll have more to say about pulque later.)  Continue reading

Yafa Cafe

IMG_794450 Favorite Places #8

That glowing review in the New York Times at the beginning of the year could well have gone to their heads – but it didn’t. Ali and Hakim are as friendly and unassuming as ever, their café’s vibe as relaxed, their food and drinks as good (or possibly better). The only difference I’ve noticed on recent visits is that it’s a bit busier. You may have to share a table at peak hours, but so what? Consider that part of its neighborly charm. Continue reading

Panadería Don Paco López

IMG_787050 Favorite Places #6

Suppose, just hypothetically, that this blog’s account of Bush Terminal Piers Park (Favorite Place #3) piqued your interest. You go there, you look around, and as so often happens, you find yourself craving a bite to eat. The immediate area is unpromising.

What to do?

You could, of course, head to Industry City, where a few of Bush Terminal’s industrial lofts have been tastefully renovated to attract tech firms as tenants. But why not go somewhere that’s truly of the neighborhood, not a developer’s fever dream or a curated-to-death food hall disconnected from the surrounding streets? Poke around a bit, and you’ll find some gems – including several that merit “50 Favorite” status.

Panadería Don Paco López is one of them. Continue reading