Thanks in no small part to the countless, always delicious pastelillos (empanada-like fried snacks) I've eaten at Lechonera La Pirana every month for the last year, I've learned that I like my pastelillos best when they're stuffed with all manner of sea creatures: crab, shrimp, and salt cod, for starters.
But while cheese, beef, and pork versions of these fried snacks are quite common through the Bronx, seafood versions are more rare.
On Wednsdays through Sundays on an empty lot at Prospect Avenue and 156th Street in Woodstock, you'll find Mama Isbaella's Place, a seasonal, stationary Puerto Rican food truck devoted to pastelillos and alcapurrias. There is no lechon, no salad, nothing but fried snacks—with a decidedly aquatic bent. Pastelillos come four ways, either with chicken, crab, shrimp, or conch.
While the flakey, crisp, and grease-free shell on these pastelillos is one of the finest the Bronx has to offer, the fillings are sadly not as impressive. The crab fails to deliver on promise of brininess its aroma delivers; the shredded meat is tepid and a bit dry. If you're hankering for a pastelillo, you're better off veering towards the unique alternative of conch. The meat, which comes in square chunks, is salty and chewy. But the filling lacks the dynamism of those sold at the nearby Lechonera La Pirana: there is no sofrito, and the conch is instead dressed in a one-note, sugary-sweet tomato sauce.
We're lucky, then, to have these alcapurrias, root vegetable croquettes stuffed with meat and fried. There's a standard beef ($2.50) but also, unique in the Bronx to my knowledge, crab. Unfortunately, that filling was unavailable when I visited recently; my heart sank a little. Still, the alcapurria con carne is one of the better I've had in the borough: the crust, though greasy, is crisp and has a surprising amount of give. It's a serious contrast to the leathery, leaden alcapurrias shells that litter this borough. And the filling? Dave Cook accurately described it as like a "sweet sloppy joe," and I'd concur. The meat is soft, not too densely packed, and slips out as easily as a molten, semi-melting cheese. It's a satisfying snack, fit for a pit stop during a long afternoon of eating.
About the author: Chris Crowley is the author of the Bronx Eats and Anatomy of A Smorgasburg Pop Up columns. Follow him on Twitter, if you'd like. In person, your best bet is the window seat at Neerob, or waiting in line at the Lechonera La Piranha trailer.