The menu shows a farming scene, featuring rows of corn flanked by a heifer and a smirking piglet. In one respect it’s not too far off: 130 years ago this part of Brooklyn was mainly Dutch farms, and a few blocks downhill, you can still stare in wonder at the Onderdonk farmhouse at 1820 Flushing Avenue, built in 1709. Nowadays the intersection of Dekalb Avenue and Wyckoff Avenue—the Dutch names persist—is the busiest corner in Bushwick. A streamlined ’50s diner dominates the landscape, recently rechristened Tacos La Hacienda. As you sit at the panoramic window, a United Nations sans diplomatic privilege streams from the subway entrance just below. I was downing an excellent barbacoa taco (steamed goat plus cilantro, onions, and guacamole in two soft corn tortillas, $2), when a pair of white dudes with trench coats, wild hair, and long beards marched out. They looked just like ZZ Top.
In contrast to the dozen or so taquerias clustered around Maria Hernandez Park to the west, Tacos La Hacienda is trying hard to remain a diner of universal appeal. In addition to the Mexican menu, there are omelettes, hamburgers, french toast, and even a Reuben, though it was never actually available the times I dropped in. The Mexican food, too, has been swerved in the diner direction. Missing are Pueblan favorites like chiles relleno and pork tinga. Instead, a handful of south-of-the-border standards are reworked as blue plate specials. Bistek a la Mexicana ($5.50) is a magnificent heap of thin-sliced sirloin sautéed with onions, tomatoes, and fresh green serrano chiles. Just as delicious is mole poblano con arroz ($6), a quarter-chicken bathed in Puebla’s notorious sauce, a reddish hubbub of dried and fresh chiles with a whisper of chocolate. Entrées are served with pinto beans and an unusually good yellow rice notable for its moistness, flavor, and lack of desiccated frozen vegetables. To sop up the sauce, there’s a pile of tortillas that taste especially corny because they’ve just been delivered from nearby Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos (271 Starr Street, 718-456-3422). Man, this nabe has everything.
Though not on the menu, the tamales ($1) are formidable in taste if not size. Tacos mirror the standard selection in Sunset Park, Jackson Heights, and Corona, including skinless chorizo, minced pork carnitas, cecina (salt-cured beef), carne enchilada (chopped pork in red sauce), pollo (chicken), and lengua (tongue). Predictably, funky selections like tripa (tripe) and cabeza (anything from the pig’s head) are omitted. You can get the tacos topped with red or green chile sauces, or a dribbly guacamole. The quesadilla, a flag of convenience for all sorts of masa and tortilla concoctions, here wallet-folds a trio of corn tortillas around a filling of chicken, tosses them in the Fryolator, then blankets the result with crumbly cheese, crema, lettuce, onion, and cilantro ($5). A very pretty plate—the splashes of buff, white, and green read like a Pollack painting. Sopes are constructed along similar lines, replacing the tortillas with hand-fashioned masa boats.
Ultimately, however, the reputation of a diner rises or falls on the excellence of its cheeseburger, and Hacienda does not fail in this regard. Cooked to a perfect medium, the sizable patty tastes like it has never been frozen. The garnish is two slices of yellow American cheese, one top and one bottom, with a few shreds of raw onion thoughtfully mired in the molten yellow. Gazing out over the landscape and imagining the sloping, sunlit fields that once thrived here, I mused: Two centuries ago, there would have been gouda on the cheeseburger.