This last weekend I was in the mood for some tacos. Being a New Yorker, my taste buds are at a certain disadvantage when it comes to good Mexican fare compared to say, a Californian or Texan. I looked far and wide for a place that has the real deal. I was not looking for some fancy fusion spot. What I wanted was honest, tasty, no-nonsense food that was relatively close to where I live and most importantly, easy on the wallet.
After an extensive search it came down to two spots in my home borough of Brooklyn: Tacos Matamoros in Sunset Park and Taqueria Mexicana Tres Hermanos in Bushwick.
First up was Tacos Matamoros. After a short ride my girlfriend and I got off the B9 bus on Fifth Avenue and 60th street and walked toward our destination at 45th street. Fifth Avenue in the 40’s and 50’s is a bustling and vibrant main drag. The bright sights and loud sounds of the neighborhood traveled through the air around us. It was a sunny Autumn day and Mexican, Colombian, Puerto Rican and Dominican families were out shopping. Music blared over car speakers; stores and street vendors hawked south of the border goods that seemed like exotic delicacies to me. The neighborhood pulsed with energy and the architecture of the 100-year-old buildings was impressive. I’ve been to the area before but had never noticed just how similar the brickwork was to Seventh Avenue in Park Slope. In typical South Brooklyn style, the avenue was filled with two signs of its ambitious, hard-working and upwardly mobile residents: new businesses and heavy traffic.
Tacos Matamoros is a clean, modern and spacious store-front. It is a neighborhood favorite sit-down restaurant that also does a brisk takeout business. I decided to order four different types of small tacos, the same four that I would have at Tres Hermanos. I chose to stay away from the more adventurous tripe and (cow) head in order to stick with my standard favorites: steak, chicken, spicy pork (enchilada) and chorizo sausage.
The salsa verde that came to the table as a condiment was delicious; especially considering that I usually stick with the red stuff. It really went well with the fresh cilantro and guacamole, especially on the chicken taco. The chicken appeared to be pulled right off the bone and included a thoughtful amount of flavorful dark meat. The big stand-out was the chorizo; it was well-seasoned, cooked to a beautiful barbecue caramelization and seemed to be coated with some sort of sweet marinade. It was reminiscent of some really serious Chinese spare ribs.
My girlfriend who grew up in Texas gave a thumbs-up approval to the two tacos she had ordered and by the end of the meal we were already discussing coming back with friends. The total cost which included six small tacos, two sodas and a tip, was an economical sixteen dollars and change .
After stopping to admire the beautiful brownstones on 43rd street, we hopped on the R train and began our hour-long trip to Bushwick via the L Train at Union Square.
Walking up the stairs of the Jefferson Street stop and onto Starr Street we found ourselves in an industrial area that seemed sedate compared to the hustle and bustle of Fifth Avenue. In between warehouses and factories were a few brick row-houses that had seen better days.
Tortilleria Mexicana Tres Hermanos was recently converted from a Tortilla factory that served those in the know to a full-fledged takeout spot. The new kitchen and seating area features a counter with a couple of stools and a few tables that look out onto the tortilleria through a glass window.
The sign outside says Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos but their menus say Taqueria Mexicana Tres Hermanos. Tortilleria refers to the factory and wholesale business and taqueria refers to the restaurant side of things. If you’re still concerned with the semantics of “tres hermanos” versus “los hermanos” well, some “la marijuana” might help with that.
Even considering this is a tortilleria, the tortillas used for the tacos were fresh and I mean fresh! My girl noticed the machine on which the tortillas are pressed and grilled to order. We were able to see (and smell) the whole process from the factory to the open kitchen. As we waited for our food the mostly hipster clientele floated in and out, sitting at tables and picking up take-out orders.
Right off the bat we noticed that the tacos contained more filler than at Tacos Matamoros. They were served with lettuce and ranch dressing and my chorizo taco was done breakfast-style with bits of potato in it. The chorizo here was spicier but what stood out to me was the chicken. It was grilled to crispy perfection with generous portions of both light and dark meat that made me crave more. I thought the steak at Matamoros was probably better with the pork being a draw between the two.
In the end our bill which included six small tacos and two sodas, came out to twelve dollars. Since there was no table service and gratuity, comparing the cost and value between the two places is pretty much a wash.
Taking convenience into consideration, which one is easier to get to? The answer depends on where you live. Taqueria Mexicana Tres Hermanos in Bushwick is more accessible from Manhattan and for those along the L line or in adjacent neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. Tacos Matamoros in Sunset Park is easier to get to with the R train from Park Slope and Bay Ridge, from Bensonhurst via the N and D trains, or by bus from Bensonhurst, Borough Park, Midwood and Kensington.
It’s difficult to say which is the overall best place. So many things seem to even themselves out. Matamoros is a sit-down restaurant that might be better for dinner and Tres Hermanos as a takeout restaurant might serve its purpose more at lunch. Both proved to be the best New York has to offer. The critics may be the real winners in this contest. We got to spend Saturday wandering NYC, eating delicious (and inexpensive!) food.
Tacos Matamoros is located at 4508 Fifth Avenue between 45th and 46th streets. Taqueria Mexicana Tres Hermanos is at 271 Starr street between Wyckoff and St. Nicholas avenues. Both are in Brooklyn.