One of the more frustrating aspects of Bushwick’s dining scene is the unpredictability. Like Italian train lines and the Southern reaches of California, Bushwick’s restaurants move at a slower pace. There’s an assumed sense of "we’ll open when we open," leaving you in the lurch when you’re craving a taco or some rice and beans. Because there are times when only a certain taco al pastor will satisfy, finding locked doors when it is clearly opening hours is a heartbreak.
Foca Restaurant on DeKalb Avenue is one of those places. I’ve rolled through many mornings to find the metal grate shuttered. Overshadowed by the corner Mexican-American diner and Sal’s Pizzeria, the tiny restaurant is also easy to miss. Foca, seal in Spanish, was formerly a laundromat, the restaurant named in homage to a brand of powdered detergent with a cartoon seal icon.
There are egg-laden breakfasts and platters of beef stew, most things heavy with cheese and thick lines of crema. The tacos are fine, the cemitas pressed like paninis into crisp ovals — these won’t stick in your brain for the next weeks, but they’re okay.
The focus here is the wider selection of unique antojitos, cornmeal-centric snacks, than most of the neighborhood taquerías. There are both chalupas and picaditas piled with beef or gelatinous pata, cow’s feet, and gorditas split in half like Venezuelan arepas. Memelas are like huaraches but thinner, and more simply dressed with just salsa and diced onion. The molotes, boomerang-shaped fried things, are not as long as the ones you’ll find on the streets of Puebla, but they’re just as crispy, served stuffed with cheese and potato. The differences between the items mostly have to do with shape, size, and topping, but the fried corn base is the same. It’s hard to go wrong.
The tacos árabes come tightly wrapped; like al pastor tacos, they are inspired by the Middle Eastern immigrants who came to Mexico with shawarma, leaving behind the lamb for pork, swapping out the pita for a flour tortilla.
Last visit, the pozole hit the spot — a thin broth covering a bowl of swollen corn kernels, nuggets of soft tripe and meaty bits, fragrant with marjoram. Served with a small plate of diced white onion, chopped cilantro, slivered radish, and lime wedges, there are also two heaping bean tostadas on the side if the trough of soup wasn’t enough.
And if you come for lunch and the doors are locked, the tamale vendor on the corner with his mother’s crumbly mole tamales and sweet champurrado can help soothe the pain.