free webpage hit counter

Restaurant Review: La Piraña Lechonera in the Bronx

Restaurant Review: La Piraña Lechonera in the Bronx

La Piraña Lechonera, which provides the closest New York City has the experience of eating roast pork on a lechonera in Puerto Rico, is sometimes confused with a food truck. It’s actually a trailer.

A long metal box that rests near the corner of East 152nd Street and Wales Avenue in the South Bronx, the trailer is supported by the tires and two piles of boards and slag blocks. It looks less like a parked vehicle than a barge that washed ashore and is waiting to be seaworthy again.

When the pandemic came, I thought fans of roast pork were among the categories of restaurants that were particularly vulnerable to economic disruption. I had eaten there shortly before closing and often thought about it in the early, panicky months, when I stopped writing restaurant reviews for a while.

La Piraña survived, however. Partly out of gratitude for this fact, I have chosen it as the subject of review where I resume the long-standing New York Times practice of ranking restaurants on a four-star scale. We suspended the stars back in March 2020, and even though the pandemic is not over, people go to restaurants.

La Piraña, which is only open on Saturdays and Sundays, packs more joy into two days than most restaurants do in a week. Unless you have arrived before dinner, you will probably have to wait before you can enter where the food is. While you are still out, you will not be alone. Some experienced customers bring lawn chairs. Others sit on the curb. There is an almost constant flow of pedestrian traffic between the trailer and two nearby bodegas, and a lot of general milling around the street.

There will be people who have driven to La Piraña from Westchester County, or Connecticut or New Jersey. They will be grouped in and around the minivans and SUVs, passing pulpo, mofongo and lechón asado back and forth through open windows.

When you enter, you will climb a short, rickety staircase and enter the world of La Piraña.

Piraña has been the nickname of Angel Jimenez since childhood in the Puerto Rican beach town of Aguadilla. 22 years ago, he took over the pork roasting business his father had started in the South Bronx in the 1980s, along with his father’s recipes. Mr. Jimenez runs lechonera alone. He is a greeter, order taker and treasurer. He’s the roaster of pigs, the fryer of tostones, the pound of mofongo. He is the ingenious caretaker of order in a greasy smeared vortex of chaos that would be catastrophic for most food companies, but which is one of the many charms of this.

See also  A hard-boiled and beautiful multiversal triumph

Each order of roast pork is separated from a much larger cut – a bone, a rib stand, a shoulder – by Mr. Jimenez’s machete, which he raises as high as he can and then takes down on the cutting board with a bang that can be heard across the street . When he really goes for it, meat and fat fly everywhere. I was in the trailer once when a customer standing next to me loudly announced that some pork had landed in his eye. He did not complain.

Not everyone is there for the lechón. They are the ones who never get away from the pulpo, the classic Caribbean salad of cold squid with peppers, raw onions and green olives. The squid at La Piraña is very soft but not spongy. The peppers are sweet and juicy. It’s not a spicy salad, but if you say yes when Mr. Jimenez offers to dress it “my way”, he will cover it with hot sauce and mojo de ajo – the garlic sauce also known as mojito, even though I met a customer who just calls it “God juice”. I have been eating pulpo with pleasure for many years, but I have always underestimated it, I think, until the day I ate a serving of Mr. Jimenez.

In recent years, some longtime New York restaurants in the Bronx and other neighborhoods have been taken over by non-Puerto Rican owners. Others have simply closed. The memories fade. Flavors that once sang out have been muted. But Mr. Jimenez’s food still tastes like something you can meet on the island. Some of his fans will tell you that he actually cooks in an older style that is not so easy to find these days even in Puerto Rico itself.

See also  Movie Reviews: Where the Crawdads Sing | Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time | She wants

Good juice is a major player in La Pirañas mofongo. Several spoons of it are bumped into a wooden mortar with green plantains that were fried to order. Then Mr. Jimenez mixes a lot of roast pork into the mash. No two pieces are alike.

A long menu used to be written on the door. Not long ago it was painted over, most likely because half of the items on it tended not to be available on any given day. Mr. Jimenez used to make several types of pastellillo, but has recently made only one. It happens to be an excellent one, a blistered, golden turnover with tiny shrimp inside.

Some weekends he also makes bacalaítos, flat salt-cod fritters with spots of green herbs. They are as good as any I have ever bought from the kiosks along the beach road in Piñones, which is to Puerto Rican fries what Highway 61 is for blues.

For many customers, however, all these items are just a garnish for the lechón. They are things to put next to a pile of fried pork in a mussel shell container that is already half filled with mofongo or with rice and pigeons until the lid does not close, then Mr. Jimenez will somehow manage to insert a hard piece of amber of pork the size of a beer roller coaster.

Very respectable lechón asado can be found in San Juan, but many people there will tell you that if you leave the city and go into the hills and mountains you can find lechón that is worth planning a weekend around. In clusters of outdoor restaurants in Trujillo Alto, in Naranjito, and above all in Guavate, whole pigs are slowly fried on skewers over wood or charcoal until they are tender enough to chop up with a machete. Lunch can easily become a full day party, with salsa playing, people dancing and empty bottles of Medalla Light stacked on the picnic tables.

See also  Review of "A Perfect Day for Caribou": Fathers and Sons, Lost and Found

Admittedly, a lechonera in Guavate will give you a selection of meats from around the animal, while the pork Mr. Jimenez gives you tends to come from just one cut. (His propane-powered outdoor oven is too small to roast whole pigs.) But the meat that gives way, the dripping fat and the crackling of hard candy on the skin are the same. The same goes for the aromas of oregano and pepper.

Even more remarkable, I think, is the way Mr. Jimenez has recreated the atmosphere of a lechonera on the hillside of the streets of the South Bronx. It may be hard to see at first, what about the double parking and the milling around and the dining inside the minivans, but the scene in and around La Piraña is something like a reunion for Puerto Ricans and everyone else who just wants a picture of God juice .

Salsa from the heyday of Fania Records will flutter from a large speaker outside, or a smaller speaker inside. One day when none of the speakers were nearby, a customer backed up his iPhone inside the trailer with a full-gallon salsa playlist.

A man who makes home-made pique, the Puerto Rican hot sauce, is often found selling bottles with it outside, just like in Guavate. At some point, a FaceTime customer will be a relative far away, and say “Guess where I am!”, He will hold the phone up to Mr. Jimenez. Mr. Jimenez will raise his machete to the position of a cruel warrior, and then knock it down on the metal edge of the counter so hard that you expect to see sparks. The routine can be intimidating if he does not flirt like a man who knows he is the host of the best picnic in New York.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.