There is a shiny new awning that reads “Mexican Grill” on Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park, and it shades a restaurant wedged between a tobacco shop and a bodega. The signage is new, though the restaurant is the same and so is its name: Alimentos Saludables (5919 Fourth Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-492-1660). Here you’ll find a slim diner counter, a couple of tables, and some of the city’s best tamales.
Assembled in the still dark hours of the morning, the tamales are cooked in batches and held warm under boxy, plastic lids. Order one and its steam will trail from kitchen to table with a whiff of the corn dough enveloped in its own wrapping. These tamales are on a different level from most of the hardened plugs of corn flour on offer around the city. They are fluffy, moist, and seasoned so that that dough, all sweet earth and starch, shine through. The fillings that run through their centers are striated, like good marbling on a steak. You might get rajas con queso, with roasted strips of pepper, seeds intact, and sticks of mild cheese; a dark and sweetish mole poblano that tie-dyes the dumpling orange and brown; salsa verde with pork; or sweet tamales stained neon-pink and plump with raisins.
Four to six different varieties are available each day, deposited unceremoniously onto paper plates and eaten with flimsy plastic forks. Above, shiny papel picados (that’s paper peppers) in metallic green and red dangle across the room; occasionally, the jukebox sparks to life. The menu extends beyond tamales, but that’s really what everyone comes in for. They are meant to be savored — comestible exemplars of time, labor, migration, and a life carved out in the postmodern era.
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer covering the city’s best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes the ¡Oye! Comida column for Fork in the Road.