El Despertar is similar to many luncheonettes that serve mofongo or cuchifritos, bustling in the front and possibly a little intimidating to the uninitiated. After heading inside from the loud train overhead, no respite is immediately found and it is a bit difficult to get a word in at the front with everyone ordering and yelling. I suggest slipping by this cacophony and grabbing a stool at the bar, where one of the friendly ladies will eventually take your order.
The bar is the main seating for the place, which seems to be mainly takeout, but there is also a small area in the back that has one table and a jukebox that is almost as large as the room. Another room adjoins the space and seems to handle overflow if the place is busy.
I grabbed a barstool and ordered a plate of roast pernil ($4, above) and sides of rice and beans ($4, above). The rice is a necessary evil here, rounding out the plate but not very good. The beans are top notch. The pork is the shining star of Puerto Rican food in my opinion, and the juicy chunks here do not disappoint. A closer look reveals how fatty and well spiced the pieces are, some of which have the crispy skins. If you ask nicely when placing the order (and Spanish would help), they would probably give you more of these unbelievable skins than you might normally see.
As if that was not enough, I also wanted to try the tostones ($3, below) and was similarly pleased with this plate as well. Sometimes you can get subpar versions of this salty snack, but the pieces here are fried to perfection and they let you decide the salt quantity by putting a shaker down next to the plate when it arrives.
All in all, the experience here is better than a cuchifritos restaurant with more bustle and neon out front, so grab a $3 Presidente and watch as regulars come in and scarf their food down. Three shifts of them came in and ate while I was lingering on my dish and beer.
849 Prospect Avenue, Bronx NY