As Puerto Ricans bred in North Jersey, my brother and I have what you might call fried-food–eating talents. So when I watched TV host Anthony Bourdain make his way to the Bronx to sample some of the area’s finest cuchifritos (porky snacks cooked in oil), it got me thinking about alcapurrias de guineo (mashed plantain tubes stuffed with ground beef) that the restaurant Pepo’s used to serve, right across the street from my old home. They’re still the best I’ve ever tasted. When I used to live in Paterson, NJ, I took trips to the Bronx for either the food, the weed, or the Yankees (in no particular order). But it had been a while since we ate our way through the neighborhood. We were due for a full-on cuchifrito tour, so I hit up my lil bro Devin to try three well-known spots—ranking each place according to our Puerto Rican Maltas beverage scale (1 to 5, 1 being lowest).
Address and phone: 158 E 188th St #1, Bronx (718-367-4500)
This is one of the most O.G. NYC joints. The place is tiny, but still has a separate Lotto booth in a corner so people can order food and test their luck with scratchers. You’ll often see women with rollers in their hair and Spanish dudes rocking durags. I felt right at home, and we managed to scored a seat right before a huge line started to form.
My review: I went with mofongo de pernil (pernil is pork shoulder for my non-bilingual readers out there) with a side of hearty gravy (a.k.a., red bean juice) and cabbage salad. I also had two alcapurrias de yuca. The mofongo could’ve used more salt, but it was still rocking. I had a Modelo to wash it down, which never hurts. The alcapurrias, though, stole the show—juicy, succulent, and all the et ceteras.
Devin’s review: My brother went with chicharron de pollo sin hueso (boneless fried chicken chunks) with a side of maduros (sweet plantains). “The chicharron de pollo was huge—both in terms of size and flavor. I liked the spot a lot—it felt like the ‘80s, real old-school. The maduros were on point too.”
Address and phone: 1731 University Ave, Bronx (718-901-2692)
We weren’t ready for this one. When we pulled up, there was a guy in front of Liberty Travel hosting a mixtape. He was playing random Jigga tracks and talking over them like DJ Clue. I almost bought a trip. This was brilliant marketing if you ask me. I have a marketing degree, so I should know. Anyway, we walk in and the place is empty. But that didn’t scare us because the food smelled phenomenal. You could tell this spot was Dominican because they had a fridge filled with various flavors of Country Club.
My review: My dumbass ordered half a pound of chicharron de puerco (fried pork chunks) and a papa rellena (a deep-fried mashed ball of potato with ground beef inside) the size of a softball. The pork was a little dry and bland, but the papa rellena was official. The deep-fried shell that covered the potato tasted like a coat of cheese, which I fucked with. Unfortunately, I ate with my eyes and couldn’t finish the meal. Let us pray.
Devin’s review: Devin ordered BBQ ribs and an alcapurria de yuca—this shit was bangin’. “The sauce was tangy and flavorful, the ribs were finger-licking good. The alcapurria wasn’t all that, though. Dare I say, it was trash. The restaurant looked like it had a good night scene because they had a stage for live bands.”
El Chevere Cuchifritos
Address and phone: 168 E 116th St (212-876-4846)
We were on our last legs by the time we made it to East Harlem. We originally planned to hit up five spots, but that seemed impossible at this point. Thankfully the weather was beautiful, and the walk was necessary after eating all of that fried food. The vibe at this place was very chill, mainly because the two servers were hilarious and reminded us of some of our aunts. The hole-in-the-wall was dead in the middle of a busy block, and we decided to man up for one last meal.
My review: I ordered chicharron de pollo with a side of maduros and an alcapurria de yuca. The chicken was seasoned just right and juicy as hell. That flavor was robust. I took the alcapurria for the road. It was okay. Not as good as the ones from 188.
Devin’s review: Devin went with mofongo de pollo. “It was some of the best I’ve ever had. Everything about it—the texture, the taste. Everything. The big chef in the back was cool as hell, and the waitresses were very nice.”
Shouts to First We Feast for paying us to be Puerto Rican and drink Maltas. They do the body good.