Finally got a chance to stroll around the heart of the Mexican part of Sunset Park. I first wanted to check out La Flor Bakery on 5th and 41st to get a hold of a pambazo de tinga that Jim Leff had talked about. However, when I asked about them, they told me they don't make them. I asked if it's a special item, but the woman I asked had no idea about it, so I'm sorry to report that as far as I know, no pambazos here.
While I did want to sample some items here, pambazos were too heavy on my mind, so my chowbuddy and I continued our journey another block further on 5th Ave to find a place called La Flor de Piaxtla. Since La Flor is also part of the name of this place, I wondered if this was the pambazo place. I asked, but alas no pambazos here either. However, the place had a nice vibe. There's no menu aside from a handwritten card, and some signs over the back kitchen/counter area (where you can make takeout orders). This is a standard antojitos joint, with weekend specials. We ordered lengua (tongue) tacos and gorditas with chicharrones. The lengua here was one of the best versions I've had in NYC. The gordita was also quite good, but fairly standard comparable with many of my Jackson Heights places.
Onward down 5th Avenue, we passed by Tacos Nuevos Mexico III just when they were putting in a fresh new pile of al pastor onto the vertical spit. We took a mental note to pass by later when it gets a chance to cook. This got my chowbud and I talking about Tacos Nuevo Mexico I in Park Slope, which he likes and I am lukewarm about. If the one we passed is III, and I is in the Slope, where's II? My chowbud swears by the Oaxacan tamales at Tacos Nuevo Mexico I, and we were talking about tamales, when in the corner of my eye, I saw Ricos Tamale stand (which was the second reason I wanted to check out Sunset park).
The awning that covers the stand says "La Guera", but we all know this place as Ricos Tamales. I wanted to see for myself that there are banana leaf covered Oaxacan tamales in NYC. The ones in Queens are the standard central/northern Mexican style of tamale in corn husks. Well, as many others have reported, these tamales are tremendous. As we sat in the park devouring them, my chowbud was duly impressed and I fear that henceforth, he won't be able to go to Tacos Nuevo Mexico I for these and be fully satisfied. We washed these messy mole tamales down with agua fresca de limon (lemon/lime water), which were very good.
Pressing further down 5th Ave, we peeked inside a couple Dominican cuchifritos places that looked mighty good, but neither of us were in the mood for these heavier items, but made sure to keep these places in mind for a later visit. Around here, I noticed a latino boy (about 6 years old?) wearing a Chowhound T-shirt. It looks like we're infiltrating the locals. Seeing this raised my chow optimism further.
We were looking for that one last item that could surpass the al pastor we saw earlier. The only other place that could have that draw was Ricos Tacos on 51st, where I noticed a good looking al pastor spit going as well. But we passed on this place and decided to go with our first instinct and do the al pastor at Tacos Nuevo Mexico III. I'm pretty picky about my al pastor and there's only a handful of places in NYC that passes muster for me, and I'm glad to report that this is one of them (while TNM I does not). The charring and the slicing of the marinated meat are essential texturally and the bits of pineapple rounded out the flavor of the meat.
All in all, it was a very productive afternoon. My earlier disappointment over not finding my pambazos brightened considerably over the course of the day. One final note about my trek through this Sunset Park neighborhood is that I noticed the word "Piaxtla" quite a bit. Rico's Taco's menu says "Piaxtla es Mexico Deli" for example. A preliminary Google search reveals that Piaxtla is the name of a river in Mexico, and I'm guessing that the use of that name may represent the geographical origins of many of the Mexicans in Sunset park.