Taco Trucks in Sunset Park
On a recent Saturday evening, a small crowd was gathered around Yissel's 71 Chimichurri truck, eating avidly or waiting for their orders. A pack of children, all related to the truck's cooks, were playing with Transformer toys on the sidewalk. But one chubby little boy lounged by himself in one of the sidewalk chairs, texting on his cell phone with great concentration. Then he looked up toward the truck and shrieked to the girls who were cooking inside: "Ma said I could have whatever I want, and I want a chimichurri!" He looked like a boy who knew what was what. I decided to go with what he was having.
If Norman Rockwell were around now, he'd be painting scenes of taco trucks on summer nights. There was the shuffling circle of people waiting for their food and those sitting on the curb, plates balanced on knees, heads tilted sideways to get a good bite. On the weekends, the crowd might be boozy and loud; on the weekdays, hushed and hungry. The truck itself is a mobile urban oasis, capable of bringing a hot meal to any stretch of asphalt. Lately, a spate of fancified food trucks have opened, including one selling crème brûlée and another selling Belgian waffles. That's fine, but I prefer the old-school trucks with their improvised, guileless charm and lack of publicists.
In Brooklyn, Sunset Park's Latin-American businesses are concentrated on Fourth and Fifth avenues. If you hang around these main drags at dusk, several trucks and carts pop up, serving tacos, gorditas, and those completely wonderful chimichurris (not the parsley sauce from Argentina, but the Dominican spin on hamburgers).
Yissel's 71 Chimichurri
Corner of Fourth Avenue and 36th Street, open Wed. to Mon., 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.*
Tacos el Bronco
Corner of Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street, open daily from between 9 and 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.*
Corner of Fifth Avenue and 44th Street, open daily from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.*
Corner of Fourth Avenue and 60th Street, open from Tues. to Sun., 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.*
*These times are not always consistent.
Tacos el Bronco is a small, silver cart with a sign in the colors of the Mexican flag and a dedicated following. Three guys squeeze into the closet-sized space and work two griddles. One is for funkier stuff like tripe and tongue, and the other is for mellower carne asada and chicken. On a quiet Tuesday night, about a dozen people clustered around the cart waiting for tacos, and the only sounds were the scrape of spatulas, the thwack-thwack of chopping, the low murmur of the cooks, and a sizzle every time meat was thrown on the heat.
Of your seven options at el Bronco, the only one not worth ordering is the chicken, which is dry and flavorless. (White meat! Horrors!) All the others are fantastic, especially the tripa (tripe), pleasantly chewy and richly crisped in lard. The chorizo is even better—crumbly, spicy, and cinnamon-scented, with caramelized bits that leave the tortilla smeared with red oil. Lengua (tongue), chopped beyond recognition, is pleasantly soft, fine-grained, and beefy.
Just one block away from el Bronco, a woman named Rosa traffics in elotes—corn on the cob smeared with mayo and sprinkled with salty cotija cheese and chile powder. This is a bare-bones operation: Rosa simply sets out her wares on a card table and keeps the steamed corn warm in a big cooler. Besides elotes, she often has various homemade aqua frescas and containers of chopped mango, cantaloupe, and cucumber, which can be squirted with lime and sprinkled with chile powder. On a hot night, her watermelon aqua fresca was better than a popsicle at a pool party.
Down on Fourth Avenue, almost at Sunset Park's border with Bay Ridge, a cart called Tacos Deliciosos is run by a zaftig woman, who tends to wear lots of red, white, and blue, and her slight, deferential male assistant. There are only four taco options, but they're all good: Choose either cecina (pork, pounded thin), enchilada (spiced, marinated pork), marinated chicken, or carne asada.
The homemade salsas here come in ancho, chile de arbol, or jalapeño varieties, and they elevate the tacos to greatness. There are also pastelillos (the Puerto Rican and Dominican name for empanadas) stuffed with cheese, spiced ground beef, or chicken.
But the most delicious things at Tacos Deliciosos, by far, are the gorditas. "Gordita" translates as "little fat one," which is exactly what I'll be if I eat these as often as I'd like to. A thick masa patty is fried until the disk is golden-brown. When you order one, the guy splits it half open and asks if you would like chicharrones, lettuce, crema, cheese, and hot sauce. Yes, you would. (To my regret, I don't speak Spanish, but I do know "con todo," and I deploy it often.)
Closer to the heart of Sunset Park, Yissel's 71 Chimichurri truck specializes in chimichurris. Yissel's awesome, mammoth chimichurris involve two thin, well-done beef patties on a soft white torpedo roll, with lightly pickled white cabbage and tomatoes, all of it dripping with a pink mix of mayo and hot sauce.
Yissel looks very young, with a curly ponytail and a sweet smile; she says her father, who is originally from Mexico, owns the truck and named it after her. Her mother is Dominican, so the truck's food mirrors the family, veering from solidly Dominican chimichurris to Mexican tacos.
The tacos here come with only one filling: suadero, a beef cut that has a soft texture and mild, bovine flavor. It's sometimes called "rose meat" for its light, pinkish color. Yissel's diminutive suadero tacos are simple and good, especially augmented with the requisite white onion and cilantro and brightened up with one of her homemade hot sauces.
Most customers order Yissel's chimichurris, although many come for tacos or skewers. There's also a selection of more deluxe plates, combining fried meat with fried, smashed plantains called tostones. A friend who is a tostones connoisseur declared these properly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. On top of these fried plantains, you can get fried pork feet, fried pork, fried sausage, fried chicken, fried pork skin, or steak.
As the lone non-fried option, the steak doesn't distinguish itself; it's tough and ordinary. The best is the fried pork sausage—a pile of craggy, inch-long fingers of spicy ground pork. They're hot and crispy on the outside and gush salty juices under your teeth. A friend noted that it's the sort of thing that a 90-year-old chain-smoking daredevil eats every day and, against all odds, never dies.
One night, I went with two friends and ordered a heap of food—several tacos, a plate of fried sausage and tostones, a pork skewer, a chicken skewer, and a chimichurri. We sat in the dusk and stuffed ourselves under the truck's flickering fluorescent lights, watching Yissel cook and commuters come up out the 36th Street subway. We had the best sidewalk table for al fresco dining in the city.
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