The mofongo de camarones at the musical-sounding La Fe comes with an extra large cup of Creole sauce to moisten the mashed plantain.
Presenting the fare of two opposing hemispheres — the East and the West — in a segregated setting, Sunset Park is unique in New York’s gastronomic demimonde. In other words, the Domincan, Mexican, Peruvian, Ecuadorian, and Salvadoran places, and the stray diner and Hasidic spot, are all tumbled down the hill toward the Upper Bay, while an ever-expanding Chinatown on top lures you with Vietnamese, Yunnan, Sichuan, Cantonese, Malaysian, and the occasional Thai place. You pick. Either way, dinner will be cheap and tasty. Sunset Park is one of the city’s great unsung food destinations.
11. La Fe — Though it flies the flags of a dozen Spanish-speaking countries in its comfy dining room right on the corner of 36th Street and Fourth Avenue, La Fe represents the Dominican Old Guard that once dominated the neighborhood. You can dash in for a snack from the steam table or a Cuban sandwich, or order one of the more elaborate Latin-Caribbean preparations, such as mofongo de camarones (shown above, originally a Puerto Rican dish), arroz con gandules, or the vinegar-laced chicharrones de pollo. 941 Fourth Avenue, 718-788-0139
10. Ba Xuyen — The beloved Vietnamese sandwich shop is open only from 7:30 a.m. till 6:30 p.m., but I’ve known people to hurry home from work just so they could score a banh mi for supper. Dark-horse favorite is the one made with canned sardines. It works. Over the last few years, the place has added sidelines that make good apps (spring rolls, for instance) to its original one: Chinese pastries and cakes in the Hong Kong style. 4222 Eighth Avenue, 718-633-6601
9. Green Fig Bakery Café — Conveniently located just uphill from the 36th Street express stop, this newcomer is seen by some as a sign of gentrification around Green-Wood Cemetery, by others as an excellent source of coffee, overstuffed sandwiches, darling little square slices of pizza, and even vegan cakes, cookies, and pastries. And you know what? Everything is solidly good. 462 36th Street, 718-369-8937
Found among the vegan baked goods at Green Fig is some seriously tasty stuff.
8. Super Pollo Latino — This Peruvian restaurant under deep cover (on several websites, it’s described as a “Mexican restaurant”) would be indispensable if for only one purpose: It’s a source of excellent rotisserie chickens you can carry up the hill of Sunset Park right across the street just as the sun is setting for an impromptu picnic. (Bring plenty of their green sauce with you.) But the Peruvian fare you can enjoy in the more formal dining room in back is also worth visiting for. 4102 Fifth Avenue, 718-871-5700
7. Mai Thai — While this joint on a pleasant corner with big windows open to blessed evening breezes sweeping up from the Upper Bay is not quite up to Queens standards, the Siamese fare is opulent and well-represented, without the revolting sweetness you find in many Brooklyn Thais. For a relaxing late-summer meal go for any of the salads, including a moo larb of ground pork and purple onions squirted with lime, or the green papaya salad, with an exemplary tartness. Duck and barbecued pork salads are also lots of fun. Want to splurge? Whole fish! 4618 Eighth Avenue, 718-438-3413
6. El Tesoro Ecuatoriano — While you may be more familiar with the country’s Andean cuisine, featuring goat, cheese sauce, and potatoes, this place slings the seafood-heavy fare of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second largest city. That means ceviches galore, including one made with black clam, the favorite bivalve of Ecuadorians, pulled from the mangrove swamps of the coast and flown to Ecuadorian restaurants in New York. Seafood soups and poached or fried fish are other specialties of the house. 4015 Fifth Avenue, 718-972-3756
5. Xochimilco — Named after a resort area west of Mexico City that features Venetian-style canals, this sit-down taqueria specializes in the fare of — you guessed it! — Puebla. Oddities available few other places in town include fiery red pozole (instead of the usual pale white or herby green), sloppy sandwiches called pambazos, and a bang-up homemade mole pipian: chicken smothered in weird green pumpkinseed sauce (above). 4501 Fifth Avenue, 718-435-7600
No gondolas, but lots of great Pueblan food
4. Thanh Da — Great Vietnamese restos in town are few and far between, but this place offers has it all: cheap prices, relaxing ambiance, and a limited menu that mixes standards and peculiarities, all within easy striking distance of public transportation. We loved bun bo Hue, a relentlessly beefy and spicy soup that originated in the middle of the long, slender country; Than Da’s banh mi sandwiches are the best in the borough. 6008 Seventh Avenue, 718-492-3253
3. Ines Bakery — Not sure when this Mexican bakery became a hipster hang, but for several years the unassuming place has been hosting budget-conscious diners with unusual haircuts at its narrow eating counter. They come for the sopes — rimmed, round, hand-patted masa cakes, gloriously topped with combinations of ingredients — and the cemitas (above): sesame-seeded sandwiches of Puebla, oozing ripe avocado and white cheese. 948 Fourth Avenue, 718-788-0594
2. East Harbor — By many estimates, this barnlike prominence on an industrial drag produces the finest dim sum (shrimp rice noodles, above) in the city, whirling by on carts amid the decorative opulence and so fresh they almost wheel themselves. Pricier Hong Kong fare horns in after 2 p.m., but you can always get cheaper over-rice dishes. 726 65th Street, 718-765-0098
Dine amid foliage and fish tanks at East Harbor.
1. Yun Nan Flavour Snack — You may look in the door and say, “This place is a dump,” but it provides almost the city’s only source of the exquisite cuisine of Yunnan (a province that benefits culinarily by its proximity to Southeast Asia), via a series of soups featuring rice noodles something like soft spaghetti, some over-noodles dishes, and a few stray apps. Nothing more, yet you’ll remember a bowl of noodles here more readily than you would elsewhere. Ask for it “spicy.” The very simplicity of the menu is a delight. 775 49th Street, 718-633-3090
Behind this unprepossessing facade lingers some amazing food.
When in Sunset Park, don’t miss the spectacular view of the harbor, Jersey, and downtown Manhattan from the top of the park called Sunset Park. (Click to enlarge.)
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