Food & Drink

6 places I hope survive Sunset Park’s gentrification

sunset park
Go up Sunset Park’s hill a bit and play ball with all the locals, while they still exist. Photo by Dave Rosado

Following through on his campaign promise to do so, Mayor de Blasio is ready to funnel $100 million into some heavy duty development in Sunset Park, planned for the Brooklyn Army Terminal, Industry City and Liberty View Plaza which includes high-budget sequels to DUMBO and the Chelsea Market.

Affectionately known at one point as Gunset Park by those who grew up there (like me), and slapped by those who lived in neighboring sections of Brooklyn with the derogatory moniker Gunset Park, it’s is still a place where you can get some of New York’s best bahn mi and tacos, and where you can enjoy an amazing view of Manhattan from the highest point in Brooklyn, in the actual park itself. Sunset Park is, for now, still known as an affordable place that’s just barely resisted the fast moving gentrification of Murray Hill East, Park Slope and countless other neighborhoods. Now though? It’s on the fast track.

In case you haven’t visited Sunset Park before, might I suggest you do so now, while it’s still in its twilight days? This way, when the transformation to Sunset Park 2.0 is complete and nobody will be able to afford to live there anymore, you can at least say that you saw it before the change over to yet another place people write stupid hacky lazy hipster-related jokes about. Make sure to hit up some of these old local favorites now, before they’re bulldozed to make room for luxury housing.

tacos matamoros
This place is basically heaven. Photo by Dave Rosado

1. Tacos Matamoros (4508 5th Ave)

I beg of you, on my hands on knees, not to confuse this wonderful, heavenly taco joint with Tacos Matamoros II over on 58th Street. I can’t stress this enough. You go for the original every. Single. Damn. Time. If you’d like to survey whether this place is worthy of existing in the upcoming “Funset” Park, have al pastor or carnitas tacos ($1.50 each for a small). Go ahead and have a margarita to wash it down. You won’t need any more convincing.


melody lanes sunset park
It’s not Brooklyn Bowl, but so freaking what? Photo by Dave Rosado

2. Melody Lanes (461 37th St)

This bowling alley that’s basically a time capsule from the 80s (with a bartender who still hasn’t returned home to his native 1840s by the look of his glorious grey mutton chops) is one of the very few relatively cheap bowling alleys left in Brooklyn. $8 gets you a game during weekday evenings, $9 does on Friday and Saturday nights. The best way to make your buck go farther is to come with a group of friends and rent a lane for 2 hours ($70 Sun-Thurs, $75 Fri & Sat), which is probably more bowling than you’ll be in the mood for. Maybe don’t eat any of the food they serve at the snack counter, as it’s served out of a creepily-located counter in the back, isolated near the restrooms. Do however get yourself a pitcher or two of beer to split with your teammates. Though bowling isn’t a bar game, I’d venture to say that you have a decent-to-moderate chance of making out with a date after a few frames. BONUS: The famed Tacos El Broncos truck parks it right around the corner, so head there for all your taco and taco-related needs when you’re done pretending that you’re bowling in space on Saturday nights.


irish haven sunset park
A neighborhood staple, Irish Haven has seen it all (and itself, in the movies). Photo by Dave Rosado

3. Irish Haven (5721 4th Ave)

The very place where Leonardo DiCaprio ordered a cranberry juice, leading to a kerfuffle in The Departed (true story), this is a dive bar’s dive bar. This place is pretty much a dump, in the best way possible, and the locals love it for its chill atmosphere, its dart board, its movie star pool table and its jukebox. A can of PBR will set you back $3, while their beers on tap go for $4 or $5. Because this is Sunset Park, tacos of course factor in somehow. Every Tuesday, Irish Haven celebrates alliteration with Taco Tuesdays. Starting at 6:30 until they run out, you’ll get yourself a free taco with every drink. So enjoy the divey atmosphere, have an inexpensive beer, and pretend you’re enjoying a part of Hollywood history.  Not that the joint hasn’t seem some less-than-savory neighborhood happenings on its own.


ba xuyen sunset park
There’s never really a bad time for bahn mi. via Flickr user John Niedermeyer

4. Ba Xuyen (4222 8th Ave)

This is very, very simple: $5 banh mi. Delicious $5 banh mi. Get your choice of classic pork, chicken, meatball or, if you’re feeling a little bit daring and like mystery with your giant sandwich, head cheese. Being that this place is within spitting distance of the actual park after which this soon-to-be-over neighborhood is named, just buy two, and run (or swim) them off.


johnny's pizza sunset park
There’s no need to fix their sign when the pizza is so damn good. Photo by Dave Rosado

5. Johnny’s Pizza (5806 5th Ave)

You know how your neighborhood has at least one awesome pizza spot where you can saunter in late at night and buy a truly delicious, truly greasy, hearty slice for the same price as a subway fare ($2.50)?  Johnny’s Pizza is better. It’s a lot better. You know what your local dingy pizzeria favorites are; just head here and order that same thing, and immediately start looking for apartments on the block so that you can live near it until the future happens and it’s gone. Make sure to flip off the adjacent Papa John’s on your way out, too.


international restaurant sunset park
Travel the world! And by world, we mean Latin America. Figuratively. With food. Photo by Dave Rosado

6. International Restaurant (4408 5th Ave)

Featuring Latin food that’s more of the island variety, head here if you’re extremely hungry with a mean hankering for mofongo, a fried dish of mashed plantains, with your choice of meat ($6.45) or without meat ($5,45), and some gravy to make sure it doesn’t dry out. The arroz con gandules (yellow rice with pigeon peas) for $4.95 is a staple, as are the white or yellow rice ($2.75) and the red beans ($1.95).

Hell, maybe this can actually turn out alright, since development doesn’t automatically have to mean pickled everything and overly expensive “Brooklyn-certified” gift shops. Also, another major part of the project should help with the neighborhood’s roads and, yes, sewage, which need serious upgrades

On the other hand…nah. In lieu of measured debate about the possibilities of more jobs for the locals (whose ability to remain local, to be fair, I am concerned about), let’s recommence freaking out instead. When’s the J. Crew coming?

Follow Dave for more Sunset Park recommendations at @DaveRosado


      • Sunset Hill

        While Kofte Piyaz is a newcomer, it is not “pickle gentrification.” A small Turkish lunch counter with affordable prices, super fresh ingredients, and a limited menu, all run by the Turkish owner and chef cooking food the way he knew it as a kid. This is the kind of place that epitomizes mom and pop shops in Brooklyn, and NYC, and while the menu may be more at home a few blocks south in Bay Ridge, it is more than welcome “around the corner” here in Sunset.

  1. I like the article. My only correction is that Sunset Park is not the highest natural point in Brooklyn. Though still located in Sunset Park, the highest natural point is Battle Hill in Greenwood Cemetery coming in at 220 feet above sea level. Aptly named, because an important battle in the Battle of Long Island took place there and where the Statue of Minerva points to it’s sister the Statue of Liberty across the bay. Sunset Park’s elevation is second coming in at 163.75 feet above sea level..

  2. BWildered

    Tacos el Bronco have superior tacos (hands down), but with no liquor license you cannot wash it down with a cold margarita. Agreed though, if you go to either (Bronco top priority) try the pastor!

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