The original idea was to find a really, really good Vietnamese restaurant. Sunset Park, Brooklyn, home of the third Chinatown in New York was supposed to have at least a couple. The neighborhood is also home to a large Mexican community and Ganda over at Eat Drink One Woman has talked up Tacos Matamoros on more than one occasion. So my friend Hong-An and I decided to make a day of it on Saturday.
The weather was in the mid-40s which is about as warm as it was likely to get for February, so it was just about perfect in that respect. We thought getting there was going to be a pain with the L train not running, but taking the JMZ and transferring to the N at Canal was pretty easy and we found ourselves outside of Tacos Matamoros in no time.
I’m used to eating tacos in the back of groceries, so finding an authentic place that had table service seemed like posh living. And the tacos were only a buck each! I was pretty hungry but only ordered two, as I figured we’d be snacking most of the day. If I’d only known that tacos were little things — the tortillas maybe four inches in diameter — I would’ve ordered a third. But they were good. Ganda was right, the al pastor (port marinated in dried chiles and pineapple) taco was awesome. I also had a suadero (pork belly) which was good but a bit under-seasoned. Hong-An had an al pastor and a carne enchilada (yet another pork variety). Tacos came with radishes and lemon wedges. I prefer lime. We took a bunch of photos — I think the staff thought we were freaks. Next time a dedicated trip is in order with much more of the menu being sampled.
We walked down 5th Ave for a while and passed a novelty store with an amazing window display crammed with nearly everything they sold: religious figurines, little plastic animals, frogs playing ukuleles, candles, and cologne. Not just any cologne, either. Don Dinero, aka "Mr. Money." The scent, which is blue, comes in a plastic bottle with an awesome illustration of Don Dinero
, dressed in a tux with cash spilling out all over, a hot chick behind him and the phrase: "A Powerful Gentleman is Mr. Money" written in both English and Spanish. (Some Googling learns this is an old Spanish proverb.) Don Dinero Cologne comes from where all fine parfum is made — the Bronx. We tried to go into this place and buy a bottle but the woman who was running the store shooed us out, saying she was having problems with door, or something, and to come back later. I think we just looked like trouble to her.
We walked up 5th for a while, crossed over to 7th and then eventually to 8th Ave (at around 60th) which is where Chinatown was in full effect. We went in the Hong Kong Supermarket and took pictures of funny food packaging
(or in the case of these peanut oil cans, it’s just beautiful design). More walking down 8th Ave, past a number of promising Chinese restaurants and a couple Vietnamese possibilities. After reaching 40th St or so, we (well, I) decided that a junky place we had passed on 7th and 59th looked like it might have the goods, so we schlepped back that way.
The place in question was called Thanh Da and was mainly a takeout joint that specialized in Banh Mi sandwiches but nonetheless had two tables and a menu with about 25 dishes including a variety of pho. We got a bowl of the special pho (rare round steak, with other not-as-identifiable beef parts) and a banh mi of some sort. The sandwich was quite good, two kinds of pork, pickled daikon and radish, cilantro, hot sauce and butter. But it’s the very crispy baguette, made with a mixture of wheat and rice flour, that makes the sandwiches so good I think. The pho was pretty good too, I thought, but I don’t know what great pho tastes like. Hong-An, who knows what she’s talking about, called it "solid" but not great. No basil but lots of cilantro, limes not lemons, and very little star anise flavor which led us to think Than Da is Northern Vietnamese in its leanings. I do know this, however — the check was $5.50.
By that point the sun had set on Sunset Park, the temperature was plummeting and we had walked at least three miles so it was time to head home. There were plenty of intriguing restaurants we passed, though, and if nothing else I’m going back for a bottle of Don Dinero.
4503 Fifth Ave. at 45th Street
6008 7th Ave. at 60th Street