Tired of Manhattan margarita mills with their timid Tex-Mex? When you get a yen for real Mexican, head for Sunset Park, where Fifth Avenue hosts a string of glittering taquerías. Thus Scooter and I found ourselves passing under the F tracks and then the Gowanus in his blue Honda, pausing just long enough to pick up our ponytailed pal Red Hook Kurt. We hit pay dirt just south of 21st Street, where we found two competing establishments tussling on a single block. I had some misgivings about Taquería D.F., though promisingly named after Mexico City’s jurisdictional moniker (Distrito Federal). But after barging in the door, we almost turned and ran. The F.K. factor—a dead giveaway whether a Mexican restaurant is good or not—totaled a discouraging 3.0, meaning we’d instantly spotted three portraits of Frida Kahlo.
Then there was the menu, which flogged “Mission Burritos.” The Mission, of course, is in S.F., not D.F. Also strange for a taquería: There were no tacos. But the “meat chilli” ($4.95) proved shockingly good—a bowl of beef and beans with cheese and crema dumped on top. Mom could have made it, if Mom had been a chile freak. Just as good was the soup called “goat meat in tomato base,” featuring dark chewy meat and a handful of rice. Out of a sense of fairness we ordered a burrito. It turned out as boring as you might imagine, even though we cadged the colorful-sounding (and canned) cactus version.
Propelled out the door by Frida’s myopic unibrow glare, we headed down the block for the bare-bones and relentlessly yellow De Guerreros Taquería. The name handily telegraphs its regional origin: Guerrero, a state west of Oaxaca ribbed by four mountain ranges. The menu shows a buff Aztec god perched on a rock pointing off-menu, as if instructing an eagle flapping by his side where to find great tacos. De Guerreros is one of those operations where the waiter is also the cook. The efficiency with which he worked was impressive, sluicing liquid refried beans with one hand while hacking a hunk of dried beef cecina with the other. Meanwhile, he was flipping tortillas into a cauldron of bubbling fat.
Those tortillas fried up into chilaquiles ($6), a quintessential southern Mexican dish tossing leftover tortillas with green mole, crema, white cheese, onions, and whatever else mamasita has on hand. De Guerreros’ version is so spicy, Red Hook Kurt let out a yelp as he dug into it. A cemita sandwich was top-notch, piled high with head cheese, jalapeños, lettuce, guacamole, and beans. Selected from a list of 14, including plenty of variety meats, the tacos ($2 each) were similarly dope; we enjoyed chewy ear (oreja), skanky and greasy goat (barbacoa), and the taco Azteca, which, for an extra 50 cents, adds a piece of fresh prickly-pear paddle cut like a human hand to a generous wad of steamed beef. Hit of the day, though, was a chicharrón gordita, a Frisbee of fried masa stuffed with crunchy pork skin.
Despite the volume of food we’d consumed, my designated eater Scooter claimed he was still hungry. So we hopped in the car and headed south toward Bay Ridge in search of Lebanese and Syrian treats.