Bronx Staple, Cuchifritos, Serves up Authentic Puerto Rican Food

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Bronx Staple, Cuchifritos, Serves up Authentic Puerto Rican Food

Clayton Walters, Assistant Business Director

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The owner of Cuchifritos, Jose Coto Sr., first came to the United States with his family from Cuba in the early ’60s. His family first opened the Puerto Rican restaurant Cuchifritos on Lexington and 103rd street in East Harlem.

“My family is from Cuba, and we’re working people that came to New York looking for a better way of life,” Coto Sr. said. “They introduced me to the restaurant business with Cuchifritos and the new generation continues in the business.”

Coto Sr. created the current restaurant in 1983 in the Bronx, a block away from the Fordham subway station, due to the high demand for authentic hispanic cuisine.

“Cuchifritos serves Puerto Rican food,” Coto Sr. said. “When the Puerto Ricans started coming to the Bronx, there was a demand for it, and that’s how my family started even though they aren’t from Puerto Rico.”

“Today, my typical customers are working people from all over,” he said. “Regular Puerto Rican families and now a lot of Dominicans, Spanish and Central Americans. They come here because of the flavor of the food. It’s very affordable, and everyone feels comfortable when they walk in here.”

In Spanish, the word “Cuchifritos” translates to “fried pork” which is the staple of what Cuchifritos sells.

“Mostly the food we serve here is from pork,” Coto Sr. said. “We serve a stew of pork ears, pork stomach, fried pork bellies and then we added the rice and beans and the other type of Puerto Rican food like the beef-stew, the chicken stew, and all that to compliment the cuchifritos.”

The dish known by the restaurant’s name “Cuchifritos” is a popular plate served with pig ear, pork tongue, banana and blood sausage, according to Coto Sr. said.

“Other popular meals are the mofongos, rice, beans and pork and all the fried items,” Coto Sr. said. “These include the alcapurrias, the bacalaitos, rellenos de papa.”

The mofongo is a dish of deep fried plantains mashed together with pork. Alcapurrias are starchy fritters, rellenos de papa are deep-fried croquettes and bacalaitos are sal-cod pancakes. All these meals are Puerto Rican specialities.

Celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain, Daddy Yankee and boxer Felix “Tito” Trinidad have all made trips to Cuchifritos to try the Puerto Rican food.

“They are very good people and very into the community. [They] all loved the food and that’s why they came,” Coto Sr. said. “Bourdain loved the chicharrones we make. He wanted people who watched his Food Network [show] to come and enjoy the food.”

Bourdain had even called Cuchifritos to deliver chicarrons to the CNN office in downtown Manhattan. Although Cuchifritos never delivers, they were willing to make a special case for Anthony Bourdain.

“For the Bronx it’s a signature restaurant,” Coto Sr. said. “They know we are related to Puerto Rican food for years and years and everybody wants to know what that is like. Everyone comes to the Bronx wanting to see real Puerto Rican food and a part of the Bronx’s history.”

Coto Sr. said many Fordham students patronize Cuchifritos.

“A lot of Fordham students once in a while will drop here at night coming from downtown, and pass by coming from the train station,” Coto Sr. said. “They have a very good relationship with the community.”

Coto Sr. hopes that his son Jose Coto Jr. will continue his legacy and run Cuchifritos for another 40 years.

“I grew up my whole life seeing my father working here and doing everything very passionately,” Coto Jr. said. “It influenced me to be passionate about it as well.”

He said he remembers being a kid in the kitchen helping his dad. Puerto Rican food is what he grew up on.

“We are a staple of Puerto Rican food,” he said. “If you’re from the Bronx you’ve had Cuchifritos.”

Long time customer Eddie Cruz has been to Cuchifritos more than 30 times, loving what he calls the cheap price and fresh quality of the food.

“I absolutely recommend this place to others,” said Cruz. “The food is great and cheap with a taste of real authentic Hispanic food.”

Another customer, Francisco Espinoza, who is originally from Ecuador, eats at Cuchifritos almost every day.

“The food and the customer service here make me come,” Espinoza said. “It just makes me feel like home.”

He said you cannot get food like this anywhere else.

“You won’t get the same service, and food nowadays is usually already frozen and just heated up, but this is made fresh daily.”

Espinoza said one of his favorite parts about Cuchifritos is the immense diversity inside the restaurant.

“I enjoy the cultures that are here, such as the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans,” he said. “There’s a lot of things in Cuchifritos that bring cultures together unlike any other place.”

Coto Jr., who will one day inherit the business from his father, hopes that Cuchifritos will continue to receive the same satisfaction from its local and celebrity customers.

“As long as everyone else is happy and everybody enjoys the food, that’s good enough for me,” Coto Jr. said.

Cuchifritos is located near the D train station on 188th and Grand Concourse and stays open from 9 a.m. to midnight daily.