Tacos Matamoros - 4503 5th Ave., Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Two al pastor tacos, a chorizo taco, chalupas mixtas, some of Ganda's shrimp cocktail, an horchata, a lemon-lime Jarritos
My friend Dario asked me one day why Mexican food was subpar in New York. In a city that excels in so many nationalities, it feels like people have pretty much ceded the wonders of tacos and burritos to the West Coast. And while there are some bright spots that tweak the formula (Itzocan Café, Bonita), outstanding straightforward Mexican fare is pretty hard to find.
Still, I knew that it had to be out there after I checked in on other food blogs. The most promising lead was Ganda’s impassioned defense of Sunset Park’s Tacos Matamoros on her site Eat Drink One Woman. There, she called it the best tacos in the city, in caps no less, a tall claim to make and one that I just had to investigate.
Ganda and I decided to meet up just after Thanksgiving, when the effects of turkey and tryptophan had time to wear off. On a dark and frigid night, I made my way down to Sunset Park, a neighborhood I’d only been to a few times. It boasted a densely Mexican community, a fact that boded well for the food. Through the drizzle, I also walked by a busy Taco Bell, a fact that foretold of less promising results.
It quickly became obvious though that I was in the hands of an expert. Ganda, who grew up in Los Angeles and went to school in Berkeley, had grown up on great Mexican food. She elaborated on the differences between Southern and Northern Californian Mexican (the former is closer to the food in Mexico). Living in the area, she’d also had time to master the Matamoros menu and provide some helpful recommendations. I went along with everything she suggested.
At the top of her to-do list was the al pastor taco, which is roasted pork that came seasoned with cilantro and salsa. We both ordered two in Spanish from the friendly waitress – I added my obligatory caveat “sin cebollas” – and I also added a chorizo taco. Ganda got a plate of chalupas mixtas, alternating between red and green salsa, for us to share.
She also ordered another favorite of hers, the shrimp cocktail, whose description she nails in her own review: “served just like it is in Mexico City, in a tall old-fashioned sundae glass, [t]he cocktail sauce is pretty sweet, chock full of creamy ripe avocado cubes and a ton of impossibly fresh, plump shrimp.” The taste I got of it ensured that I would definitely get one for myself next time.
Through dinner, Ganda and I talked about my imminent move to San Francisco and she started to list all of the amazing restaurants I needed to visit. It was nice to meet someone whose eyes bugged out in joy over a perfect bowl of pho or a transcendent baguette. Her recs gained even more credence when I took a bite of my al pastor taco. The flavors were bold, lively and exciting. The chorizo, which I’ve loved ever since my first trip to Spain, was nearly as good, with an oily heat that lit up my taste buds. Everything else was also consistently great, from the sharply flavored chalupas with their crispy corn bases, to the horchata, the cinnamon drink that I enjoyed in Valencia.
By the end of my meal, I walked to the subway on quite a high. Meeting Ganda was a pleasure, and our one conversation that night made me more eager to move to the West Coast than any number of travel brochures and guidebooks. I also knew that I now had an answer for Dario. Though New York may still not be able to compete head-on with California, its Mexican gems are much like any other ethnic food in the city: They just require a little digging and a dependable guide to be unearthed. 8/10
From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out
- Name: Lonesome Hero
Thursday, January 12, 2006