The Close Enough Real Cali-Mex: Sunset Park, Brooklyn



While New York seems to be able to reproduce the flavors of cuisines from across the globe with great ease, the one cuisine they have yet to master is Mexican food, or if we’re being PC here, Cali-Mexican food.  Having grown up in Southern California, I can confidently say I’ve had my fair share of Mexican food. And I have strong opinions of what I find to be good and bad quality. There is no Tacomiendo here to curb my cravings for the perfect burrito, or a Tere’s for those double crispy tortilla chips with guacamole. Where in Manhattan will I find a bowling alley that serves the perfect chilaquiles? And it’s a shame that I found the best Mexican breakfast in the outskirts of LA on a recent vacation. I wish I could have cryogenically preserved their perfect classic burrito with meat, rice, onions, and cilantro and snuck it into my suitcase. 

But alas, I’ve resorted to the Quidobas and Chipotles (only ONCE during a forced work lunch) that sprinkle the city. I hear there are some decent hole in the walls in the city, but looking for those makes taco hunting an Olympic sport. 

Our fearless leader, Scott,  took a group of us to Sunset Park, Brooklyn for this month’s food marathon. Tacos were the game, and game is my name. 

It was a FRIGID January day, near 20 degrees, and no condition for 7 Manhattanites to be frolicking in Sunset Park for frivolous reasons. But with Scott’s print-outs of reviews and side scribbles declaring, “must eat the pork, pork, pork,” bottle of Tums, and Pink Bismuth (aka Duane Reade’s version of Pepto Bismo), we had no excuses.  

First Stop: Tulcinga Deli VI

5520 5th Ave. , b/w 55th and 56th st. 

I have to preface this “review” by stating, I’m not a taco aficionado. I never order tacos, but instead, go for the burritos, enchiladas, and platos. There’s just too much tortilla for a bite. And I’m a lover of accoutrements. I need and want the oozing cheese, the Mexican rice, the refried beans, pico de gallo, fresh guacamole, and dollop of sour cream.  


Which is why my only regret from the trip is not having tasted the above chorizo taco-pia filled with guacamole. But I just had to show you what $2 can get you at Tulcinga, recognized as one of the more known places in Sunset Park to get quality tacos, or Mexican food in general. 


It’s a simple enough concept, but someone in Sunset Park needs to take Subway NWQ or R in to the city and notify the Mexican restauranteurs how to make the damn things. 


I guess what Tulcinga is known for are their arabes, which seem like burritos wrapped like tacos to me. Their wrapped in flour instead of corn tortillas, and consist of just meat, onion, cilantro, and a bit of a red mole sauce. Personally, I found them incredibly salty (and I’M a salty person). But everyone else seemed to love them. At this point, I’d rather have a burrito… minus one. 


Jenny also ordered the chalupas. I don’t know about you, but when I had chalupas in our elementary school cafeteria, they looked more like fried tortilla bowls filled with faux-cheese and sausage pom-poms. Minus two. 

Second stop: Ricos Tacos

505 51st Street, b/w 5th & 6th Ave.


After we wet our palette at Tulcinga, I was excited to visit Ricos Tacos, not for tacos, but for tortas! Another over the top, accoutrement-filled creation by some of my favorite peoples.  


We amused our bouche with a fresca milkshake. If you want to know how to make it at home, just grab a pint of strawberry ice cream and let it melt to room temperature. Not to say it wasn’t good, it just really tasted like melted strawberry ice cream.  


$6 gets you one of the best tortas on this side of the country. There I said it. 


Over-stuffed, layered with different textures from the cold, wet mayo to the crispy fried meat, it’s kiiiiind of an amazing sandwich. I’m a huge fan of mayo, and I LOVE how it’s cold. The pickled jalapenos give the right amount of spice, and the Oaxacan cheese adds the perfect amount of salty. The bread was soft in the middle, and crunchy on both sides: the crust and where it was buttered and toasted to crisp perfection. 


Third Stop: Tacos Matamores

4508 5th Ave., b/w 45th & 46th St.


No taco trip would be complete without eating the cabeza (head meat), the lengua (tongue), and the buche (tripe). While some reached for the Pink Bismuth sooner than later, I thought the cabeza and lengua tacos were great (no buche tacos were ordered…we were at RESTAURANT 3 for goodness sake. We thought we’d be going to casual stands, but ended up getting seated, peelings layers of jackets, and give our orders 4 times within a frame of 2-3 hours.). When you’re used to tacos filled with shredded or cubed meat, the soft texture of the cabeza and lengua meat is a nice change. The meat is milder in taste and reminded me of the soft, fatty oxtail meat I get in my mother’s oxtail soup.  

Fourth Stop: I can’t remember the name, nor did I do anything here besides cower my head and watch others grudgingly nibble on tacos and overcooked flan. 


Each visit felt like dejavu. I imagine there was a city hall meeting with all the Mexican restaurants in Sunset Park to coordinate menu items and pricing. But it’s always nice to be able to appreciate good food and company when you only have to dish out $5 a meal with some change to spare. Even better, is opening up the check book with an assortment of candies that take you back to the border patrol line in Tijuana. I’m glad to know that whenever I have an itching for Mexican food, Sunset Park is a leap away. I can’t say I’ll take the trip often, but to know that I can taste LA for $5 and not $350 is another welcome change.


5 Responses to “The Close Enough Real Cali-Mex: Sunset Park, Brooklyn”

  1. 1 smelly

    way to follow up your last post with this awesome one!!! HUNGRY!!!!!

  2. 2 michelle

    ohhh crap…i should not have read this 2 days after swearing off mexican foodz.

  3. 3 nicole knox

    what type of sausage is that made with the chalupa aslo what do poms poms sausages

  4. 4 meli

    ooh, thank you!
    still wondering about the tacos at tacos ricos…
    and is there an edible burrito on the east coast? i might need a tortilla steamer at home.
    i’m from cali so i can’t imagine swearing off mexican food. but if you can’t find the real deal.
    p.s. had a decent street taco from a stand right by yeshiva a couple months back.

    • 5 foodyi

      I STILL haven’t found an edible burrito over here. The best you got is Chipotle, really. Whether it’s the proportion of ingredients, the kind of meat they use, the tortilla, or a number of other variables, something is just always off. Tacos at Taco Ricos were good, as they were in most of the restaurants. But the tortas or where it’s at. 🙂

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