At one time this storefront was called El Comal, after the Latin American griddle; it prepared tacos, quesadillas, and the like. That menu is still available at a companion cart across the avenue, but the name of the shop now reflects what it does best.
On a postprandial hunt for sweets, my dining buddies bought an assortment of cocadas at this Mexican shop. The best of the batch had a caramelized appeal, much like the ones sold by a pushcart vendor at an Ecuadorian festival last summer. This evening's sweet wasn't as gooey, however; most if not all of Zocalo de Atlixco's cocadas were commercially wrapped, and imported from Puebla.
I also bought this jamoncillo (74 g., $2), likewise from Puebla, and wearing the La Esmeralda brand. The name refers to at least two distinct confections. One, generally spelled out as jamoncillo de leche, is often translated as Mexican fudge; the other, shown here, was identified on its label as a dulce de semilla de calabaza — a pumpkin-seed sweet. (To be sure, calabaza frequently serves as a catch-all for pumpkins and squashes in many shapes and sizes.) Though sugar leads the short list of ingredients, this jamoncillo wasn't overly sweet — a nice change of pace from the cocadas.
Zocalo de Atlixco Deli Grocery 5623 Fifth Ave. (at 57th St.), Sunset Park, Brooklyn 718-439-0575
This was a come-on impossible to turn down, especially in light of the final three Chinese characters. "Xiao long bao" brings to mind a lidded basket of soup dumplings, as they are often called, with smooth, almost translucent skins and a brothy payload. Elsewhere in Sunset Park, another proprietor had told me of the many varieties to be found in his native Shanghai, and of plans to expand his own roster of xiao long bao.
The improbably low price (six for $2.50) and the paper-plate-only service, however, strongly suggested that here the plain-English "steamed bun" would be closer to the truth. So did the shop's Fujianese roots, which I gathered from the menu. Partly in pantomime, the proprietor informed me that he'd need about 15 minutes (the first three Chinese characters stress that the dumplings are handmade). It's a quarter-hour well-spent: Inside the fluffy wrappers is a weighty blend of bamboo shoot and pork — many sources say pork butt or shoulder, a few insist pork belly — that's moist, but not drippingly so. Unlike soup dumplings, these don't leak.
Great Taste Dumpling 4317 Eighth Ave. (at 43rd St.), Sunset Park, Brooklyn 718-436-2516
The two ladies working at the very back of the dimly lit, otherwise empty dining room appeared surprised when I walked in for an atol de granillo. Not surprised by my order, I gathered, but surprised by the very fact that I'd stepped inside, though I couldn't figure why. (The restaurant was open for the day; the weather, on a late morning in January, was relatively balmy.) One lady ducked into the glassed-in kiosk at the front of the restaurant; she soon emerged with a small cup of the atol ($1), and I was on my way.
I didn't get far, however, before another customer appeared. She disdained the door, made a beeline for the window, and put her finger to something just above the sliding partition in the center: a bell, or maybe a buzzer. Regular customers know the drill; some of us newcomers need a little time to catch on.
As for my atol de granillo itself, the texture provided by cooked, dried, roughly ground kernels of corn is easy to see. Some renditions of this Mexican beverage are reportedly sweet; this one was less so. You might enjoy it more with breakfast than on its own.
Isabela's Family Restaurant 4412 Fourth Ave. (44th-45th Sts.), Sunset Park, Brooklyn 718-832-6715