New York, Brooklyn included, exists within a sort of Mexican food black hole. Either you have to hunt far and wide for the good stuff (like Chavella’s), be prepared to pay NYC prices for street food (like $9 carnitas tacos at Bonita) — or hold your breath until the Red Hook Ball Fields reopen (latest, most optimistic assessment: mid-June).
A few Red Hook vendors have set up shop at the Brooklyn Flea, but you can also satisfy your south of the border cravings in north Brooklyn, on a stretch of Manhattan Ave. in Greenpoint filled with Mexican and South American restaurants (all Google mapped here).
Papacitos [NEW] (no phone but hours on site, 162 Huron St. at Manhattan Ave., behind the M & W Laundromat) Cody Utzman, formerly of Brooklyn Label, opened this place — basically a concrete patio with brightly painted walls, a cinder block bar and some big picnic tables — on a dime and a summer prayer. The food is not authentic Mexican, but the guacamole is delicious, the tacos are satisfying, and one of the girls sharing our picnic table favorably compared the vegetarian burritos to the seed of God, but in less delicate terms. Oh, and the crowner? You can get a 32 oz. Tecate in a bucket of ice served with a pile of lime wedges.
El Encanto Mexicano (718-349-2885, 1005 Manhattan Ave.), near Papacito’s, is a tiny bodega that serves tacos, tortas, and huaraches during the week and special dishes like tamales, enchiladas and stews on the weekend. In terms of authenticity, this place is pretty much the final word in Greenpoint.
Across the street sits Pio Pio Riko (718-349-5925, 996 Manhattan Ave.), a Peruvian steak house. But forget the steak: the delicious whole rotisserie chicken, avocado salad, fries and beans and rice for $18.95 is the neighborhood’s best takeout deal. Also, the anticuchos — marinated, grilled beef hearts — will change your mind about offal.
Cafecito Bogota [NEW MENU] (718-569-0077, 1015 Manhattan Ave.), further up the street, is a Colombian cafe that is switching its focus from coffee and pastries to arepas and South American wine. On Tuesday owners Oscar and Hernando Varela kept Bogota open until midnight for the first time, and their new menu includes salads, brunch and sandwiches — but really, the arepas are what you’ll come back for. The Calena (pictured) comes with a pile of shrimp and crispy green plantains, cooked with garlic and plum tomatoes, and the plate includes a green salad and a small fruit salad. Other notable items are The Almibar (queso blanco, guava cubes and cured ham), and the vegetarian-friendly Medellin (cranberry beans, plantains, and hogao sauce, made with tomatoes and onions or scallions).
Behind the bus stop between Freeman and Green Sts., New Tulcingo Restaurant (718-349-0033, 1035 Manhattan Ave.) usually advertises breakfast specials and hearty lunchtime choices like eggplant parm, but on a semi-regular basis there’s also a sign for chicken mole on display. When they’re serving it, this and a couple of other Mexican items (like Tinga Chicken Tacos) are authentically delicious.
Near the end of Manhattan Ave. and the borough, Acapulco Deli and Restaurant (718-349-8429, 1116 Manhattan Ave.) serves tacos, nachos and burritos, but the best item on the menu is the huarache, preferably with chorizo. Huaraches — popular at the Ball Fields — are oval disks of corn masa, pan-fried and topped with a thin layer of beans, then meat, lettuce, cheese and salsa. They also serve a mean Morir Sonando, the Dominican version of an Orange Julius, which translates to “die dreaming.”