There’s no better view of New York City than the one from the top of the hill in Sunset Park. There before you, spreads Staten Island and its row of orange ferries; downtown Newark bristling with skyscrapers; the port of Elizabeth’s container cranes wading like seabirds; the commercial towers of the Financial District; and the Statue of Liberty hoisting her light in the middle, as if hoping to be noticed. Founded in the 1890s and laid out with twisting and ascending Victorian paths, Sunset Park lent its name to the south Brooklyn neighborhood that surrounds it, reaching from the Upper Bay to Ninth Avenue, and from 36th Street to 65th Street.
Most of this territory was bought from the Canarsee Indians in 1640 and subsequently farmed by the Dutch and English. Streets were laid out in their current configuration in the late 19th century, coinciding with the arrival of townhouses, churches, factories, storefronts, and other types of mercantile real estate. Back then the population was mainly Irish, Italian, German, and Norwegian, but by the late 20th century, Dominicans, Mexicans, and Chinese came to dominate.
The neighborhood is rich in restaurants, especially budget-priced ones, with the Latin establishments mainly arranged along Fourth and Fifth avenues and the Chinese and other Asian ones along Eighth Avenue and its side streets. Here are some favorite places to eat in Sunset Park, running roughly from south to north. In terms of price, they fall into three categories: cheap [C], mid-priced [M], and expensive [E] — though, miraculously perhaps, there are still virtually no expensive restaurants in Sunset Park.
Fei Long Food Court — Some say this modest food court – with only six stalls, embedded in a block-long supermarket with parking in back — has the best xiao long bao in town. Shanghai Dumpling House sells these wildly popular items in seven varieties, in addition to other types of dumplings and bao. Other stalls provide fiery Sichuan hot pots, Fujianese over-rice dishes at three for $5, and Taiwanese beef noodles. Plenty of seating; food court closes at 8 p.m. Right outside the food court, Taste of Guilin provides noodles from that southern Chinese city famous for its thumb-shaped karst hills. 6301 Eighth Ave., 718- 680-0118 [C]
Thanh Da — This is one of a pair of Vietnamese old-timers that have regaled Sunset Park visitors for over 20 years. A banh mi shop fills the front of the restaurant, with a small collection of tables in back behind a podium where the waiter takes up his station between trips to the hidden kitchen. The pho is above average, the spring rolls unfailingly crisp and furnished with fresh herbs and lettuce, and the banh xeo (sizzling cake) well worth experiencing — folded into something like a cross between a crepe and an omelet. 6008 Seventh Ave., 718-492-3253 [C]
Alimentos Saludables — “Healthy Food” is a charming little Mexican lunch counter that specializes in homemade tamales, savory as well as sweet. Craving starch? You can have a tamale made into a sandwich. The place also offers all-day breakfasts that run to chilaquiles and huevos rancheros, in addition to such antojitos as tostadas, quesadillas, tacos, and tortilla soup. Some unusual full-plate meals include fried shrimp cakes, spaghetti with pollo milanesa, goat mixiotes, and mole de olla — a Pueblan beef soup loaded with vegetables. Open seven days, from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. 5919 Fourth Ave., 718- 492-1660 [C]
New Belacan — Of the substantial number of Malaysian restaurants that dotted the city’s Chinatowns in the 1990s, few remain. The cuisine is one of the world’s most strongly flavored, making much of sour, slimy, salty, fishy, and spicy flavors and textures. The names of the dishes, blunt and assertive, suggest the powerful flavors: lobak, rojak, achat, sambal petai, and, queen of them all, assam laksa, a soup bursting with tartness that is sure to induce a pucker. In a manner typical of Malaysian restaurant design, the interior looks like a tropical hut. 5918 Eighth Ave., 718- 492-9088 [M]
Eastern Ocean One — This Sichuan gem hidden away on a side street has lots of qualities to recommend it, though service is not one of them. To make up for that, go for the lamb chops with cumin sauce, a tangle of meaty rib bones in a sticky, non-sweet glaze dotted with red chiles and scallions; or the ma po tofu, which is dense with ma-la peppercorns. Sit in one of the private booths on the main floor if you can, and don’t accept a seat in the basement if you can help it. 769 57th St.,718-439-1108 [M]
Chi Ken — Around the corner from Eighth Avenue on 54th Street, this newcomer specializes in Taiwanese-style popcorn fried chicken: small breaded morsels of light and dark meat, really tasty. Vended from a small paper sack, it can also be included in a bento box for a few dollars more, along with a tea-boiled egg, kernel corn, broccoli, cabbage, rice with a sweet ground-meat sauce, a Taiwanese sausage, and tempura vegetables. Random elements? Possibly. Chicken cutlets and fried squid also available, along with some very fancy seating. 5401 Eighth Ave., 718-633-8877 [C]
Ricos Tacos — This was one of Sunset Park’s earliest taco stands, replacing an earlier Dominican cafe in the late ’90s. The goat barbacoa is great, whether enjoyed in a taco, tostada, sopa, or “taco especial” (with cheese, Mexican-American style). So is the cueritos (pork skin), lengua (cow tongue), and picadillo (minced beef stew) — which may be a holdover from the Dominican days. The premises is modest in the extreme, but come summer, there’s outdoor seating. 505 51st St., 718-633-4816 [C]
La Brasa Peruano — Peruvian chicken at cut-rate prices comes to Sunset Park for the first time, along with rotisserie pork ribs, South American-style Chinese stir fries and noodles, a scattering of Italian dishes, and that favorite of children — salchipapas (french fries tossed with cut-up hot dogs). But the rotisserie chickens in combinations that include salad along with fried rice, french fries, or rice and beans are what most customers get, along with the trademark green mayo dip. And don’t miss the chicken giblet soup called aguadito. 4618 Fifth Ave.,718-765-4088 [C]
Tacos El Bronco — Associated with a famous taco truck that parks just south of the Green-Wood Cemetery, this handsome Mexican cafe specializes in Pueblan food, but offers a substantial pan-national menu as well. Favorite dishes include tripe cemitas (a round sandwich with cheese and avocado flavored with an herb called papalo), scrambled eggs with prickly-pear cactus, chicken huaraches, and white pozole served with two tostadas. Dig the mural of snow-capped mountains and stampeding stallions. 4323 Fourth Ave.,718-788-2229 [M]
Tortas Y Jugos Don Pepe — This rollicking spot specializes in fresh-squeezed juices (you’ll feel like you’re at a juice stand in a zocalo) and pressed tortas, offered in dozens of permutations and finished in a sandwich press. Some feature things like hot dogs and American bacon, mixed with more traditional Mexican meats, along with generous wedges of ripe avocado, mayo, and an assortment of cheeses. You won’t walk away from one of these babies hungry. Very highly recommended, and there’s seating, too. 3908 Fifth Ave.,718-435-3326 [C]
Kofte Piyaz — Once this small Turkish cafe and coffee house specialized in ground-meat kofte kebabs fashioned into baguette sandwiches, but the instant the twirling gyro cylinder was installed in the window not long ago, everything changed. Yes, Turkish salads and bread dips of scintillating quality are available, and you can still get the kofte hero, but the chicken-gyro in a pita — available with a free beverage, for $4.95 — is one of the best (and one of the best deals) in town, especially when squirted with plenty of yogurt and hot sauce. 881 Fifth Ave.,347-227-7036 [C]
And here’s an exceptional place to get dessert:
Generoso’s Bakery — Directly across the street from the massive Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral (the borough’s only basilica) lingers this ancient Sicilian bakery, in something of an urban miracle. The cannoli shells are baked on the premises, and filled with fluffy ricotta to order, and the butter cookies, napoleons, chocolate eclairs, and sfogliatelle are every bit as good. Open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days. 5812 Fifth Ave., 718-492-0895