A Sunset Park Taco Crawl Through the Eyes of a Mexico City Guide


RELATED: Where to eat tacos in Sunset Park

New Yorkers are constantly reminded that its Mexican food pales in comparison to California’s. But if there is one neighborhood that makes a strong case that our tacos, sopes and cemitas are just as good, it’s Sunset Park.

Unless you’ve made a few trips yourself, it’s hard to decide which taqueria to hit, which is what makes this Saturday’s taco crawl with Lesley Tellez, a tour guide of Mexican street food, so appealing. The author of the forthcoming cookbook, Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets and Fondas, will be joined by Sunset Park historian, Joe Svehlak, and together they’ll lead a group of 15 to Tacos Matamoros, Mi Pequeña Chinantla and Tacos El Mezcal (also known as Taquería el Maguey). The tour also takes in El Nuevo Pueblo for a spicy-salty fruit cocktail, La Flor Bakery, and two Mexican markets, where Tellez will talk about ingredients in typical Mexican dishes.

The tour price, $65, includes all food and a copy of the cookbook. Judging from the recipe Tellez shared below, it’s a great deal.

Chicken Tinga in Chipotle-Tomato Sauce
(recipe adapted from Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets and Fondas by Lesley Tellez)

Chicken tinga is a typical stewed dish common in Mexico City, Puebla and Sunset Park. Image courtesy 'Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City's Streets, Markets and Fondas.'

Chicken tinga is a typical stewed dish common in Mexico City, Puebla and Sunset Park. Image courtesy Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets and Fondas.

This is a classic guisado, or stewed mixture, sold at local quesadilla and tlacoyo stands in Mexico City and Puebla, and also available in Sunset Park. It’s pretty easy to make at home using ingredients you can find in the neighborhood. Shredded chicken is simmered in a light tomato sauce with a touch of smoky chipotle. Usually it’s served in a warm, freshly made corn tortilla, with or without cheese. The dish originated in the state of Puebla, but it’s become popular in Mexico City and the surrounding states. This is the tostada version, which is a bit more fun to eat, but a warm corn tortilla works just as well, too.

2 pounds bone-in chicken breasts
1/4 small onion
1 dried Mexican bay leaf
1 medium garlic clove, unpeeled

For the tinga sauce:
6 ripe plum tomatoes, or 1 (32-ounce) can whole, peeled tomatoes
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 1/4 cups chopped onion
1 medium garlic clove, minced
2 chipotles en adobo from a can, minced, with seeds, plus 2
teaspoons adobo sauce, or more as needed
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/4 cup chicken stock, plus more if needed

To assemble:
2 cups crema or sour cream
12 tostadas or tortillas
1 onion, sliced
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and
queso añejo or another aged, crumbly cheese

1-Remove any excess fat from the chicken breasts, including the skin. Place in a large heavy pot and just cover with cold water. Add the onion, bay leaf and garlic and bring to a boil. Turn the flame to the lowest it will go, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. Remove from the pot and let cool. Shred the meat into pieces with your fingers. Strain the broth, reserving 1 cup, and freeze the rest.

2-Make the sauce. If using fresh tomatoes, cut in half and remove the seeds, then coarsely chop. If using canned tomatoes, drain them well, then pulse in a food processor into coarse, chunky pieces. Drain again if they’re very juicy.

3-In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic, 30 to 60 seconds. Add the tomatoes, cooking for about 5 minutes if using fresh (you want a thick, chunky paste) or about 3 minutes for canned to let the flavors meld, stirring occasionally.

4-Stir in the shredded chicken, chipotle and adobo sauce, oregano, chicken stock and 1/2 teaspoon salt. (If using fresh tomatoes, you’ll need to add more than 1/4 cup stock so the tinga doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan as it cooks.

5-The chipotle should be noticeable but not too punchy. Taste and add more if necessary. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Uncover and add salt to taste. If the tinga still looks soupy, raise the heat and reduce the juices a bit more.

6-To serve as tostadas, slather a thin layer of crema on each tortilla. (For more amped-up chipotle flavor, mix a little of the adobo sauce in the crema.) Add a few spoonfuls of tinga, a slice of white onion and two slivers of avocado to each. Top with the crumbled cheese.

Variation: Oyster mushrooms are a great vegetarian substitution here, although mushroom tinga is not necessarily authentic to the streets of Mexico. Prepare the tinga the same way, using 1 pound oyster mushrooms, shredded into strips, and substituting 1/2 cup vegetable broth or water. Leave the lid off while cooking and turn the heat up after about 5 minutes to reduce some of the juices.

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