Dining inside Tacos Cachanilla, a slim taqueria on the southern end of Sunset Park's 5th Avenue, feels like eating inside a circus tent. The walls are painted a wild lime green, the walls undulate with waves of shiny mirrors, and the small juice counter at the front serves frothy horchata in turquoise carafes. Long ago, Cachanilla started as a roving tamale cart. The business grew, the owners pinched pennies, and there's now a proper restaurant serving rich bowls of caldo de camaron and plates of braised shortribs with verdolaga, the green succulent, purslane.
The current owners are from Tijuana, the congested border to the North, and serve all manner of antojitos, tostadas, gorditas, and other platos fuertes. A special of barbacoa blanco ($12), braised goat meat, is straightforward and rich. It's flanked by a dice of raw jalapenos, tomato, and onion, the two piles to be mixed and melded, then ferried to the mouth with a basket of warm tortillas. The tasty mulitas ($7.75), large handmade tortillas sandwiching cheese, meat, and guacamole, speak to their Norteno-stylings and ooze like a good quesadilla.
Traditional chicharron preparado is a pork-on-pork absurdity: a trough of fried pork skin shouldering curtido, pickled pork skin and all the fixings. In more modern times, fresh pig skin is hard to come by and toilsome to deal with; if you've ever prepared a sheet of the slippery stuff by scraping off the excess fat, you understand why. These days, many taquerias use a pork skin substitute made of flour that is as crispy and crunchy as the real thing, if less heavy and prone to squeaking. At Cachanilla, the chicharron ($7.75) is layered with crumbled chorizo, fragrant with clove, or braised carnitas, as well as crema, tomato, cheese, and avocado. Crack off a hunk and eat it like nachos.
Chile rellenos ($10), like anything on the small handwritten list of specials, are great: two freshly fried poblano chiles, oozing cheese, encased in an eggy batter that soaks up a mild pool of tomato sauce like a sponge. The trifecta of salsas served with a basket of chips at each meal brings a brick red salsa, a smooth green, and a gritty paste of dried chiles in oil that would be at home on any table in Chinatown. There's also a plate of amazing rice and beans, which when combined with a stack of their steaming tortillas and a daub of salsa becomes a perfect meal, as pedestrian as it is delicious.
Getting there early is best: fresh-from-the-steamer tamales ($1.50), champurrado, and hot chocolate that uses true bar chocolate, not a mix, are available from 6-11 AM. Worth noting: there are no bebidas fuertes, according to a handwritten sign in neon orange on the wall: beer and liquor are not permitted, so you'll have to stick with juice or bottled soda.
5807 5th Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11220 (map) 718-492-4369