It’s Friday night, and all six tables at the back of Karen Deli Grocery are filled with men tucking into steaming stews and tamales. Some watch TV shows on their phones, some excitedly converse in Spanish, and others silently savor their food. All diners sit beneath the watchful eyes of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph figures, and amid the clatter and hum of the tiny adjacent kitchen run by two women.
Though Sunset Park is known for its large Mexican, Dominican, and Puerto Rican populations, there is also a small Guatemalan community in the Brooklyn neighborhood, and the back of this bodega provides a delicious window into this world. From the front, Karen Deli looks like any other bodega, with shelves of peppers, tortillas, candy, and fruit. But the second you reach the back, the giant colorful mural of Guatemala and smell of stewing meat will signal you’ve discovered something special.
Check out the marker-board menu for an array of Guatemalan delights. There’s pepian, a delicately spiced, pumpkin seed–flecked stew that many consider to be the national dish. There’s hilachas de res, shredded beef and potatoes in a light tomatillo sauce with a side of rice and beans. And if you’re feeling merely peckish, don’t fret: The kitchen also makes mini Guatemalan tamales known as chuchitos.
Once you’ve ordered from the cook, head to the front and pay at the register. Don’t forget to grab one of the many regional sodas from the cooler to wash down your meal.
Know Before You Go
You order from the cooks at the back, then pay at the front register.