On a quiet street in Ridgewood, there’s a new idea about the taco that’s making moves inside a former storeroom for a largely forgettable finishing store blocks down Onderdonk Avenue. The idea is that it’s a good idea to put barbecue brisket in side tacos, a creative decision that’s determinedly a few steps ahead of most taco trucks. Of course, they are not the first to think of it – it’s part of a “decades-long tradition… [that] started as a practice at backyard gatherings,” according to no expert less than the taco editor at Texas Monthly. These days, it’s become something of a speciality service through out middle-brow sit down taco restaurants throughout the mid-west.

For chef Alvin Lin, however, the tradition had started inside a bowl of pho. Before there was Lin’s newly opened Lucy’s Kitchen on a sleepy unassumingly block in Queens, there was the more energetically located Lucy’s Vietnamese, which still exists a few blocks off the Bushwick side of Myrtle Avenue. The atmosphere of the other, original Lucy’s hangs over this one – the likeminded bright yellow color scheme, the minimal indoor seating. 

Here, the brisket appears not inside a bowl of noodles, but packed neatly inside a corn taco. The effect is tough, but rewarding, with a lot to chew on. When he can, Lin goes for the elaborate touch, toppings that seem to glow in the last summer sunlight like jewels. The brisket inside is glazed with hoisin sauce and covered by a gentle layer of crispy shallots. In addition to being filling in the way that almost any corner taco can be, the ones at Lucy’s reward introspection. 

Beyond the tacos, the other star at the newly opened Lucy’s Kitchen is the hibiscus tea, which comes infused with rose petals.

Lin had started at Lucy’s right around 2020, right after the place had shut down for a year and went through a change in ownership, following what one of the new owners described, with a quiet laugh, as a “management issue.” Lin came as its doors on Irving Avenue were reopeneing at the height of the COVID pandemic and where they remained managed by the energetic figure of Johnny Huynh.

The general brisket idea had come from him – in the early ‘10s, Huynh slung beef for a relatively popular, Texas-themed Smorgasbord popup called Lonestar Empire and decided to start Lucy’s as a way to “reconnect with his roots,” as detailed in a mini-documentary shot by Vice in 2017 called “How Johnny Huynh Reconnected with His Culture Through Food.” His barebones take on Vietnamese streetfood was on trend for the moment, arising around the same time as now-classic spots like Bunker and Little Mo

It’s easy to read some of this longwinding story of changing trends into the tacos that are now being sold under the same name and tattoo-style heart as the dark oceans of bok-choy infused broth where Huynh’s briskets still float like icebergs of pure fat. The meat over here is, for obvious reasons, both tighter and a little more lean when it appears on the tacos. (Lin, however, maintains that he uses Huynh’s same, advertised “14-hour” smoking process.)

Lin is also casting a little wider of a net – with mixed results. The nachos there aren’t quite lived-in enough to make an impression; the quinoa salad is about as good as a quinoa salad is going to be. The real star, however, are the sugarly bottles of hibiscus tea that Lin makes in-house and sells in the fridge. They came with an earthy punch that recalls a strong batch of kombucha, something Lin says is attributable to his decision to mixing in rose flowers, an idea he says he got from something they used to do at longtime “MasterChef Canada” judge Alvin Leung’s notable spot in Hong Kong called Bo Innovation, where Lin had worked in his early days in the culinary industry. 

Lucy’s Kitchen is located at 552 Onderdonk Avenue. Their hours are 4pm-9pm from Mondays to Friday, 12pm to 9pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Keep up with any changes on their Instagram page.

All images taken by Andrew Karpan.

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