Here’s Calm of the Niger author and Eating the World in New York City creator Jared Cohee’s story about his second adventure as a Taxi Gourmet correspondent in New York City.
Stay tuned for more of his dispatches – and if you’re interested in going out on your own taxi adventure, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The best news for a brand new cab driver must be a destination just blocks from where you live.
If I was a little timid during my first solo outing last month, I’m immediately at home this time with David, my driver from Santiago in the Dominican Republic. He seems just as nervous as me when he picks me up at Grand Army Plaza, heading uptown, and this I find out is because it’s his first week on the job. He’s recently come back to the States after five years back home and followed his brothers into the taxi business.
We start speaking Spanish and this seems to relax us both. He’s very happy to tell me about his home country and the new life he sees here as a cab driver, then eventually opening up a small shop with his brothers in the Bronx. They all share an apartment with their mother in Fordham Heights.
Our conversations about food mostly center around the sancocho stews and fried chicken their mother is “famous” for, but when I press a little further about where he and his brothers eat when they need to get out of the house, David tells me about 188 Bakery Cuchifritos, a popular Puerto Rican place just off Grand Concourse that specializes in its namesake.
Cuchifritos are not for everyone. As I placed my order, I got a long, disapproving look from the waitress before she took it upon herself to explain just what was in an order. Roughly translating to fried pig (parts), you can pick your poison: ears, tongue, stomach, and blood sausage are all available.
If you’re feeling adventurous, dive right into an “orden de cuchifritos,” which will let you sample all the pig parts. It seems only natural to say ‘yes’ when someone offers you gravy, but I also recommend gravy for when you start to get queasy from too much ear-eating. It helps you focus on the taste and less on the textures and realities of what you’re putting in your mouth.
Any respectable neon-signed cuchifritos establishment will also have a wide variety of other fried options that are much easier to eat: empanada-like pastelillos, chicharron, plátanos rellenos, and alcapurria. Sticking to this side of the menu can help you enjoy the fun of the place instead of switching your focus to the battle against your meal. No matter what you order at 188, wash your food down with their delicious tropical juices, which come in flavors like coconut, tamarind, and passion fruit.
The area around the intersection of Grand Concourse and Fordham Road here is very high-volume, and 188 Bakery Cuchifritos seems to occupy a proud place near the top of the hierarchy of the neighborhood. This is not a place where people come to relax – it’s more in-and-out service, a quick lunch, and a chance to catch up on gossip between friends and neighbors. As many people seem to be coming to buy lottery tickets from the kiosk in the front of the restaurant as are eating. But the spirit here is undoubtedly authentic, and completely New York.
188 Bakery Cuchifritos – Map it
158 East 188th Street, Bronx, NY 10468
Tel. (718) 367-4500
Open: 7am-3am, 7 days
Recommended: Orden de cuchifritos (sample plate), $6; alcapurria, $1.50; passion fruit juice (and any other small juice), $1.
For good sancocho, I doubt we can go knocking on the door of David’s mom, so I recommend heading uptown to Margot, a popular Washington Heights Dominican restaurant with great stews.
Margot Restaurant – Map it
3822 Broadway, New York, NY 10032
Open: 11am-10pm, 7 days
Recommended: Sancocho ($5/small and $7/large)