On the first truly hot day of 2006, my skin was stuck to the back-right arm rest of a 1989 Toyota Camry. Rolling his steering wheel around the corners of Los Feliz, Zakhar declared that this would be the moment that he finally turn on the air conditioner. A dusty, lukewarm sputter inched its way out from the dashboard, and we all left our windows open, waiting for the coolant to catch up with what was left of the Los Angeles breeze.
Cruising local in a sticky, overcrowded, post-Yuca’s stupor between fruition and realization, we saw the fruit cart. Serving not-quite-cold chunks of dessert in styrofoam bowls for $2.50, this shiny street side shrine would be our salvation. We pulled over, stumbled out of the car and lined up as the woman behind the sneeze guard disarmed a pineapple, dissected a watermelon and diced a mango. I sat on the curb, placidly scooping cheap fruit into my mouth and thinking to myself that some day I, too, could be an Angeleno.
On the first truly hot day of 2009, I stepped onto Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg to find my neighborhood transformed. It was the perfect preview of a Brooklyn summer: 88 degrees and an expansive sense of afternoon without the overbearing humidity that will soon drive me to madness. Doors and windows flung themselves open all up the street, summer dresses flew out of the woodwork and at the corner of Bedford and Metropolitan, one of my favorite neighborhood eateries was drawing its usual crowd.
Run by the extremely friendly Martinez family, Williamsburg locals who have been serving their neighborhood for over a year now, the mostly nameless Metropolitan taco cart has quickly built a reputation for itself as a local favorite, and with good reason: It offers the most authentic Mexican food I’ve had since moving to New York.
While the $2.50 tacos here would have a hard time competing with Yuca’s, Carnitas Los Reyes and the rest of the best of Southern California, they would have no problem fitting into their own street corner in Los Angeles, possibly across the street from a summer fruit stand. When compared to their peers on Bedford (the mostly regrettable Endless Summer Truck at North 6th and mostly depressing L.A. Burrito at South 1st), these tacos are a true standout in Mexican flavor. The meats, which include a decent carne asada, surprisingly savory pollo, a tidy rendition of chorizo and a tasty tinga (shredded chicken in a slightly spicy red marinade) are well seasoned and grilled to order. Homemade red and green sauces toss just the right amount of heat and moisture onto each bundle of flavor, and pickled jalapeños add the perfect kick for those who crave real spice with their tacos.
The true achievement of the Metropolitan taco cart, however, is its $5 quesadilla. Whenever you place an order for one of these hand crafted beauties, Sylvia Martinez reaches into a cooler full of masa, rounds a fistful of the white cornmeal into a sphere, then plops it onto her wooden press. In a matter of seconds and an with an appreciable amount of grace, she constructs a perfectly round corn tortilla and flops it onto the grill.
After adding your choice of filling- vegetable options are available, but fake meat is thankfully off the menu- Sylvia tosses on a handful of marinaded and grilled peppers and onions, followed by a hearty dose of Oaxacan cheese. She dusts the entire thing with shredded lettuce, a splash of sauce and a pinch of shredded cheese for good measure. She folds the tortilla, at this point nicely crisped on both sides, over the completed filling and waits for the cheese to melt.
The resulting quesadilla is a wonderfully distinct dish, showcasing the family’s devotion to their food and creating a bite that’s worth coming back for week after week. The handmade tortilla is substantial and earthy without being too mealy or dry; it soaks up the juices of the meat and sauces without losing its crisp edges or its fresh, nutty flavor. The mild, slightly sweet/slightly salty cheese plays perfect counterpoint to the more robust flavors of the meat. The trimmings add to the freshness, while a handful of pickled jalapeños sets everything off with an essential shot of spice.
I’ll grant, of course, that there’s better Mexican food somewhere else in the city, but I’d be hard pressed to go anywhere else when the Metropolitan taco cart is literally a two minute walk from my front door. On the first truly hot day of 2009, I wanted little more than to sit on the stoop across Bedford and wolf down a steak quesadilla under the Brooklyn sun. The jingles of competing ice cream trucks floated just around the block. I started to feel a familiar thirst for watermelon and entertained the notion that some day I, too, could be a New Yorker.
Authentic Mexican Cuisine & American Fast Food Cart
Bedford Ave. Between Metropolitan and Grand
N. 6th at Berry (on Sundays)
Williamsburg, Brooklyn 11211
The Taco Cart formerly located on Bedford at Metropolitan has relocated.
If you have information on its whereabouts, please e-mail a tip to James so we can update this post.