On a quiet street in Ridgewood, there’s a new idea about the taco that’s making moves inside a former finishing store a few blocks down Onderdonk Avenue. The idea is to put barbecue brisket inside tacos, a creative decision that’s 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 a self-described taco editor at Texas Monthly.
For Alvin Lin, the tradition had started from inside a bowl of pho. Before there was Lin’s newly opened Lucy’s Kitchen on an unassuming block in Queens, there was Lucy’s Vietnamese, which still exists a few blocks off the Bushwick side of Myrtle Avenue, in a slightly more busy corner of town. The atmosphere of the other, original Lucy’s can be felt inside this one; the bright yellow color scheme, the minimal indoor seating.
But here, the brisket does not float inside a bowl of noodles, but is packed neatly inside a corn taco that falls apart gleefully at the touch. The effect is tough, but rewarding, with a lot to chew on. When he can, Lin goes for elaborate touches, jamming inside toppings that look made to glow like jewels in the last summer sunlight. The brisket is glazed with hoisin sauce and covered by a gentle layer of crispy shallots. They reward introspection.
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 Lin’s bosses described, with a quiet laugh, as a “management issue.” I didn’t ask and he didn’t either. Lin was hired as the Irving Avenue location was reopeneing at the height of the COVID pandemic, remained managed by the energetic figure of Johnny Huynh.
The general brisket idea was his. In the early ‘10s, Huynh slung beef for a relatively popular, Texas-themed Smorgasbord popup called Lonestar Empire and later 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 streetfare was on trend at the time, arising right as spots like like Bunker and Little Mo started opening their doors. Huynh’s execution was straightforward, but satisfying: dark oceans of bok-choy infused broth, briskets that float like icebergs of pure fat. The meat that now comes in taco form is, for obvious reasons, both tighter and a little more lean when it appears in the tacos. (Lin, however, maintains that he uses Huynh’s same, advertised “14-hour” smoking process.)
Lin’s menu also casts a wider net than his Bushwick home base. 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. He scores, however, with the bottles of sugary, homemade hibiscus tea that Lin sells in the fridge. They come with an earthy punch that recalls a strong batch of kombucha, which Lin attributes to his decision to mix in rose flowers, an idea he says he learned from longtime “MasterChef Canada” judge Alvin Leung, with whom Lin worked at Leung’s notable spot in Hong Kong called Bo Innovation, 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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