Editor's note: On October 18th, street vendors from all around the city will converge on the Tobacco Warehouse in Dumbo, Brooklyn for this years Vendy Awards. Tickets are only $80 and every penny goes to benefit the Street Vendor Project, a non-profit organization that fights for the rights of sidewalk vendors in New York City. Every day this week we will profile one of the five finalists, and the food they will be serving up at the competition.
Rafael Soler’s pupusa truck is not the only vendor of note at the corner of Clinton and Bay Streets. It’s not even the only pupusa truck of note. As any serious streetside eater knows, weekends at the Red Hook ball fields are a celebration of all things Latin—with huaraches, chalupas, watermelon juice, grilled maiz on the cob, and so much more, all sold from trucks clustered around the park's northeast corner. But Soler Dominican snagged this year’s Vendy nomination—a choice that’s hard to contest.
Pupusas themselves are perfect street food: small, flat cornmeal cakes stuffed with meat, cheese, or veggies and slapped on the grill for a hot, steamy snack. While Rafael’s range from the simple frijoles to the traditional queso con loroco—cheese with a Central American flower bud—the best might be the revuelta. Its pork-and-mozzarella filling is a salty, meaty mouthful that oozes out of its cornmeal casing the moment it gets a chance.
Each one is grilled to order, and half the fun is watching the girls in the truck expertly shape the masa dough. Resident pupusa master Rafael is exceptionally friendly—offering suggestions and often plating the pupusas himself, with pickled cabbage and, if you like, fried plantains or tostones. This modest meal will set you back only three dollars, so once you've made the trek out to Red Hook, it’s easy to go crazy. Cheese and zucchini pupusa? Carne asada? A Dominican chimichurri burger? The only limit is your stomach capacity.
A nomination at the Vendys mean a little more to Rafael Soler than it might to others. The Red Hook community faced extinction last summer after the city cracked down on the free-form table setup, mandating that all vendors package themselves into neat little trucks. This cost proved prohibitive to many; a working food-worthy vehicle is a much greater investment than a backyard grill. But with a tremendous outpouring of support from loyal pupusa-eaters, other vendors did reemerge this year—among them Rafael Soler. A win for him, you could say, would be a win for the Red Hood Ballfields. (And that would be a win for happy stomachs everywhere.)
Red Hook Ballfields, Clinton Street at Bay Street, Brooklyn NY (map) Weekends only, in season