You thought you knew taquerias on Wyckoff, didn’t you? Let’s get one thing straight: this isn’t like “that great taco truck” that you’ll only visit after a tad too many beer-shot combos with a tinder date at a dive bar. Oh and it’s probably cheaper too. From the vibrant talavera tiled walls that hail from Puebla, Mexico; to the set of cacti drenching in the sun –– a steady socially distant line is formed.
Taqueria Al Pastor opened on the corner of Wyckoff and Stanhope in January 2020, just six weeks before the pandemic. Because of the proximity to Wyckoff Hospital, the Taqueria closed for six weeks to protect their employees. But they’re open now! The aromas of a menu with dedicated salsas for each dish, whether it be vegan cactus tacos, or their football sized burritos, can be smelled through your mask from the stairs of the Dekalb L train station that sits just a few feet away.
“We are 100% Mexican. All of our food, the way we prepare it, the tradition and custom that we honor. This is the way you’ll cook and eat tacos just like we did when we were children,” said a co-owner of Al Pastor Taqueria (names of owners elected not to be shown).
Born in Puebla, Mexico, the group of owners recall working in restaurants over the years where they’ve seen chefs follow culinary tradition and stretch it, but at times, also terribly miss. In the Mexican cuisine space, true authenticity is ever more challenging to find. In the U.S. alone, over 230 million Americans regularly dined and cooked with Mexican ingredients last year. The wave of Mexican food popularity has led a trend of many restaurateurs to seek their own unique niche of the food we know and love, which sometimes results in dishes that are unrecognizable to some. Traditionalists worry that this may be at a cost to their culture.
“Lettuce… Sour cream… They’re not real ingredients in authentic Mexican tacos. No one knows where that came from,” they say –– and the rest of the Al Pastor staff and their loyal local following seem to agree.
Daniel Gomez, a customer dressed in a fluorescent yellow construction vest, sat in their sidewalk space with a huge portion of rice and beans, guacamole, and their famous al pastor. “Look I come here at least once a week. The pork is juicy, the salsa –– don’t even get me started,” he said, taking a pause to sip the house made Horchata. “This place makes you feel like you have a piece of home with you.”
Al pastor is a taco made with spit-grilled pork, originating back to the lamb shawarma brought by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico during the 19th century. Because of its blending of Middle Eastern and indigenous Central Mexican spices, the union of flavor is unmatched in pairing Al Pastor’s house made soft bundle of a maize tortilla, or a heartier bed of rice and beans. You’re after all dining at a restaurant named Al Pastor. Go with the al pastor taco.
On the vegan side of the menu, Nopal Cactus tacos are a clear favorite. Locally and indigenously known as an ingredient in traditional medicines, the Cacti element brings a vibrancy to the plate and a delicious balance to the salsa that out does the more commonly found bell pepper any day of the week.
The flavor palate that ranges between the different varieties of staple tacos is the highest achievement of the Taqueria. Considering the unassuming, walk-in style, corner shop, grab-and-go appearance, Al Pastor delivers a bite that yanks you from it’s Brooklyn street corner and drops you in Puebla.
When asked about the distinct flavors between tacos, a cook added with deliberateness, “Each taco we have is paired with its homemade individual salsa. If you just use one salsa for everything, that’s not a salsa, that’s a dressing. It’s the most important part.” Everyday each salsa is remade, along with every other ingredient, guaranteeing utmost freshness for their high quality products. Prepping all the goods everyday takes a lot of extra labor, but, “when you do what you love, it becomes easy,” says one of Al Pastor’s chefs.
For the price of a coffee, it is undeniably a bang for your buck meal that you can continually depend on whether it be a between meal snack or a sit down stomach stuffer. Al Pastor is a place for the people, by the people of the Bushwick community. Like other restaurants, it has faced its challenges through the pandemic, so if you’re wondering how to support pre-existing community members, buy from their businesses.
What makes Al Pastor shine though are the people practicing their craft of cooking with honesty and generations of knowledge. Just under a year in business, the group of owners reminisce how it took them over a decade to plan what is now Al Pastor. Although they never saw the pandemic coming, they remain hopeful that the people of the community recognize the hard work that they’re doing, and most importantly, the delicious food they’re serving. “I’m not a chef. I didn’t study,” the head cook says, “but I know good food. It’s my country, it’s family, it’s life.”
All photos taken by Erik Kantar for Bushwick Daily
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Disclosure Notice: Taqueria Al Pastor is an advertising partner of Bushwick Daily however they did not have any editorial control over this article