Red Hook'd: Ochoa Guatemalan
This is it, good reader: the last of our Red Hook Soccer Field reports... so let's cut to the chase.
Not only are Juan and Esperanza Ochoa some of the nicest folks in these parts, they've also been here the longest, serving up hearty Guatemalan comidas tipicas in Red Hook since 1984. If nothing else, they have earned the title of genuine Food Tent O.G.'s. So gather round, pull up a seat, and let's see what Red Hook's most venerable has to offer.If you're in the mood for seafood, start with their Guatemalan-style shrimp ceviche ($6). It's packed with tomato and fresh cilantro, and reminded us a little of the Mexican coctel de camarones. Ponder that coincidence with a few rolled chicken taquitos ($1.25), or dig in to a big plate of grilled marinated chicken, rice, and thick black beans ($8). No matter what you settle on, try one of their homemade salsas. Nothing on the table brings thermonuclear heat, so don't be shy: just pick, squirt, and act like you know.
Speaking of which, here's one thing you really should know: many of Ochoa's most popular (and interesting) dishes are out of sight. Literally. I had no idea they served so much, because so much of what they serve is under the radar... like (ironically) the gigantic “Guatemalan style” tamale. This seriously creamy ode to cornmeal comes stuffed with a chunk of salty, saucy chicken (bones and all). It's a meal unto itself, and a real deal at $3. Just make sure you get it with a spoonful of the terrific spicy pickled cabbage.
If you're still feeling adventurous, look for an inconspicuous white “kidney” cooler... this is where the Ochoas keep their chiles rellenos. We ordered one “spicy,” a seasoned mix of chopped pork, beef, carrots, onions and egg, stuffed (against all odds) into a hot pepper. The rellenos arrive lightly fried in a spongy batter, topped with tomato sauce and served on two corn tortillas ($3). Keep those tortillas handy. You'll need them to make a taco and/or wipe your face. Then take a breather; you've earned it, big eater! Then consider a full-fledged nap. Then see if you can figure out which tent is more laid back: this one or the Carrello family's. All of which begs the question: is Guatemala really this mellow?
Either way, who cares... so long as the Ochoas stay in Brooklyn. After all, there is something immensely relaxing (if not reassuring) about the way they do business: the interactions, the regulars gathered at tables, the warm smiles and soft music, the nigh-stubborn lack of anything even vaguely resembling a menu. No matter how quickly things have changed in Red Hook Juan and Esperanza continue to operate on their own terms, as they have for 22 years and counting.
So on that note, let me leave you with one final suggestion, good reader. If you haven't already, walk a few extra meters past the huaraches and the pupusas to the Ochoa tent, and sample what these real O.G.s have to offer: Red Hook as it was, is, and hopefully will continue to be.
Bay Street side
(eighth tent from the corner)
Tamales & Chiles Rellenos: $3.00
Big combo food plates: $8.00