Walking Tour

Sunset Park Is Three Worlds in One—And They’re All Worth Exploring

What to do, see, and eat in Brooklyn’s Chinatown, Little Mexico, and Industry City.

Photo by Ally Schenker

Sunset Park takes its name from the elevated greenery that offers sweeping views of the New York Harbor, Manhattan’s skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and—on the clearest days—Staten Island and New Jersey. The neighborhood’s most intriguing features, however, are down slope, where three different worlds are waiting to greet you.

Photo courtesy of NYC Parks

A Chinatown Larger Than Manhattan’s

Did you know that Sunset Park is the city’s largest Chinatown? Mostly Cantonese and Fuzhounese immigrants dominate the 28-block region, accounting for the abundance of restaurants whose cuisine leans toward these traditions. Walking down Eighth Avenue between 39th and 66th streets feels exactly like cruising down the streets of Hong Kong—fishmongers yelling prices, stores vertically stacked on top of one another, and Hello Kitty everywhere. As you go along, stop in any store that catches your eye—I was drawn to the golden tea holder stacks at Ten Ren Tea, the irresistible sesame noodles at Yu Nan Flavor Garden, and the overwhelming selection of all things cutesy at Sweety Shop.

Photo by Carolina Ramirez

If you have time for only one stop, though, Fei Long Market is a must-visit for all Chinese staples, with rows and rows of rice cakes, tiny dried shrimp, and dragon fruit. Sift through the dozens of specialty stands—Taiwanese noodles, Sichuan hot pots, and Peking duck galore!—until you hit my favorite: The Shanghai Dumpling House. Speaking as a soup dumpling expert (OK, so it’s a self-appointed title), its xiao long bao (XLB) are among the best I’ve eaten in the city. They are small and have thinner dough than most others I’ve tried, which makes eating endless amounts that much easier.

Photo by Carolina Ramirez

Crossing the Border to Little Mexico

Travel from China to Puerto Rico and Mexico in just a few avenues. Lined with taco shops, bakeries, and other family businesses, the immigrant groups here have transplanted parts of their native lands—especially the food—to create a welcoming, familiar environment for the community on Fifth Avenue. Kids spill out onto the streets with watchful neighbors tanning on their stoops. The avenue feels like a time warp from decades ago, in a time before helicopter parents and endless chain stores.

Photo by Carolina Ramirez

The battle for best taco on this stretch is a showdown between Tacos El Bronco and Tacos Matamoros. If you just want tacos, head to their respective food trucks. Costing only $1.50 each, it’s your duty as a New Yorker to try as many tacos from Bronco as you can stomach: barbacoa, lengua, spicy pork, and (of course) the al pastor. Nothing more than the simple preparation of onions and cilantro is needed to complete these perfect bites. Matamoros offers some more obscure selections, such as cabeza, cueritos (pig trotters), and tripe, but it preps the more usual options just as well. You’ll have to try them both to decide which reigns supreme.

Photo by Ally Schenker

The landmarked Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, located on the edge of Fifth Avenue, is a testament to the neighborhood’s diversity and history. The windows featuring inscriptions of the area’s founding families—Collins, McCaffrey, Healy, and Coffey—hint to the church’s Irish foundation. Mostly Hispanic and Chinese people populate Mass nowadays, with a small group of Nordic and Irish participants who stuck around after the “white flight” to the suburbs post–World War II. Despite the often distinct divisions between these communities, the church is a place where everyone comes together as one.

A Futuristic “City” Inside an Old-School Neighborhood

Industry City is a stark contrast to the neighborhood’s modest roots. Before the megacomplex developed in 2013, the Bush Terminal was an abandoned relic of Sunset Park’s days as a vibrant 20th-century industrial port. It attracted a large population of Norwegian and Finnish immigrants in its heyday, accounting for the now outmoded names Little Norway and Finn Town. After WWII, the manufacturing industry changed drastically and the Bush Terminal became much less profitable. Today, the developers famous for Chelsea Market have transformed this space to focus on modern modes of industry like design, engineering, digital production, and food.

Photo courtesy of Industry City

The cultural juggernaut is home to some of the best eats and drinks across the city: Brooklyn Kura for craft sake brewed in-house, Ends Meat for epic Italian heroes, as well as Li-Lac Chocolates’s factory. But first, coffee. Extraction Lab is a sleek coffee shop that looks like a caricature of a startup’s office (succulents covering the walls, neon signs, wood communal tables). If you aren’t a coffee connoisseur, maybe skip the world’s most expensive cup of joe in favor of a cold brew from its daily rotating selection. 

Photo by Carolina Ramirez

Shopping is another main asset of Industry City. If you’re searching for the perfect housewarming gift, look no further than Wanted Design. For a recent trip to a friend’s place in Martha’s Vineyard, I found a small-batch Brooklyn-made candle that smelled like the ocean. Additionally, Brooklyn Flea pops up in Courtyards 1 and 2 every Saturday. Find antiques, collectibles, furniture, and other hard-to-find gems at the city’s best flea market.

Industry City is a family destination, too, with a low-key game room, an indoor miniature golf course, and kid-friendly programming throughout the year. The interactive M.C. Escher exhibition, on view at Industry City until February 2019, is also a must-do for influencers and art enthusiasts of all ages. The ’grammability of the work of Escher, who died in 1972, shows what a forward-thinking artist he was.

Photo by Ally Schenker

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