Sunset Park Day Trip, Part One: Mmmm, Mmmm Mexico

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Sunset Park is best explored via the stomach and foot. From the park on the hill to the rugged waterfront, this neighborhood features some of the best views in Brooklyn, and waves of Mexican and Asian residents have transformed the area into one of the tastiest trips in the borough. In fact, there’s so much to see and eat we’ve divided this Day Trip in two. First, tacos, tamales and tortas as we guide you through Sunset Park’s Mexican food. And stay tuned for Part Two: Brooklyn Chinatown in a few weeks.

Get off the R train at 45th Street, and walk east. For a savory breakfast option, grab a tamale from the lady who sells them on 45th St. and 4th Ave. For something sweet, Mi Mejico Pequeno II (4513 5th Ave.) has sugary pan dulce, crispy cookies and soft rolls that between emerge from the ovens hourly, and café con leche to wash them down with.

Breakfast in hand, find a bench in Sunset Park (44th St. and 5th Ave.) and take in the incredible view of the Statue of Liberty and the Upper New York Bay.

A few loops around the park to check out the handball court, skater kids practicing ollies and the Chinese fan dancers should help make room for a lunch of some of New York City’s best Mexican food. Tacos Xochimilco (4501 5th Ave.) offers grilled chicken, steak, and pork al pastor tacos topped with onions, lime and cilantro. The spare taqueria also sells tortas and rich mole enchiladas, but regulars love the Pambazo, a roll stuffed with chorizo, potato, cheese, lettuce and finished with gooey crema.

Across the street, Tacos Matamoros serves up $5 margaritas to wash town succulent chorizo tacos. The large space is packed with families during the day and early evening; artists and cinephiles join on evenings when Light Industry hosts an event.

For more unusual flavors, wander south for the tacos arabes (lamb) at Tulcingo Deli VI (5520 5th Ave). The salad with avocado rounds out the meal with buttery deliciousness.

Or, you could make a meal simply walking down 5th Ave–freshly grilled corn from the vendor near 49th street, pastelillas (empanada-like turnovers) from the stand on 5th Ave and 54th St., elote from myriad stands and the aguas frescas sold outside El Comal (4711 5th Ave). For those healthfully inclined, nearly every corner in the 40s offers fresh-cut fruit (add some lime, chili and salt to your slices of mango and cucumber to spice things up).

If tacos and tortas don’t bring on an afternoon nap, try a scenic loop to some of the neighborhood’s incredible churches. St. Michael’s is the Fourth Avenue church whose iconic spire defines the neighborhood, and the monumental Our Lady of Perpetual Help at 5th and 60th, which is one of only 60 basilicas in the United States.

If you prefer the rougher edges in a neighborhood, wander west under the Gowanus expressway to the largest industrial waterfront remaining in Brooklyn. The cobblestone streets, tall brick warehouses and curved tracks have been immortalized by local photographers like Digenger and Shooting Brooklyn. If you’re lucky, you might catch some local anglers at the pier off 53rd St.

All that air warrants a pint of fresh, cheap Guinness at Irish Haven, (you may recognize it as the backdrop for several scenes from The Departed). Old-timers there might point you towards Johnny’s Pizzeria (5806 5th Ave.), whose slices and baked ziti do for Sunset Parkers what madeleines did for Proust. Or, if you haven’t gotten your Mexican fix yet, visit to Tacos el Bronco, a taco stand that sits at the corner of 5th Ave. and 43rd St. from 8pm until the early morning.

As you wind down your day, make a last visit to La Gran Via for a slice of the pan de zanahoria or a piece of their coconut cake, and another café con leche to bookend the day. With that sweet memory, you’ll be back to Sunset Park soon.

Text and photos by Lisa Riordan Seville, sent by Annaliese.

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