In the Bronx, chicharrones abound, found in any number of Dominican and Puerto Rican diners, at more ambitious bodegas, and in a number of taquerias and pupuserias. But coming across a great Dominican-style chicharron, which calls for the whole belly to be fried for something that is at once crunchy and moist? Well, it's not the easiest thing to do.
Many Bronxites are inclined to pay homage to the gods of fried pork at Elsa La Reina De Chicharron, a mini-chain with locations in the Bronx, Manhattan, and New Jersey. The restaurant's name, which means "The Queen of Fried Pork Chunks,"* is a declaration of war. One might say you are expressing your allegiance by stepping inside.
* Yes, fried pork chunks is not a transliteration. But it's a funny translation that shows up on many menus.
At Elsa, the chicharrones are served stewed, cooked into rice (called locrio, perhaps informally, as we understand the dish to be rice cooked with fresh belly and shoulder), or chopped up and served unadorned. I went for the latter, and found the chicharrones to be several notches above what you'd find on any old street corner. But something was still lacking.
Certain bites were impeccable, the serious, crackling snap of the skin giving way to the soft, luscious and creamy fat, while others were sadly dry. The acidity and freshness imbued by a squirt of lime is an absolutely necessary concession.
I finished my chicharrones happily, but left somewhat unsatisfied, still searching for that perfect plate of fried pork. You'd be well served to drop by in the neighborhood, but I left wondering, where do you get your Dominican or Puerto Rican style chicharrones in the Bronx? My visit to the Queen inspired in me a new mission: finding the borough's best.