An Ode to Caporal Chicken…

BY Claudio Cabrera

This post might seem so stereotypical. A Barry White colored dark skin guy – who also happens to be Dominican – writing about his love for pollo frito (fried chicken)?

I can already feel some readers turning away from this post after the first paragraph. But you know what? I don’t care. I love Caporal Fried Chicken on 157th and Broadway and I think you do too. Actually, I bet you do. It’s an uptown landmark. It’s the Fried Chicken version of Johnny’s Pizzeria on Dyckman. You could’ve grown up at the end of Inwood near Baker’s Field, or all the way east in El Barrio in Harlem and you still heard about Caporal at least once in your life.

So how did the love affair begin with el pollo con el sabor Latino?

My Grandma lived on 164th and Fort Washington all her life. I used to stay there every day during my parents work hours. I was there from 2 years of age until I was old enough to come home from school by myself (10 or so).

I remember every time she got tired of making me mangu con salchichon, or queso tropical and cebollas, 157th and Broadway was her out. It was never the McDonalds which was one block away because she said McDonalds ‘no es comida, es porqueria.’

So we’d take the walk down Broadway and walk in to Caporal and ordered their famous snack box.

Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s, these snack boxes were like $2.00 and brought fries and 2 to 3 pieces of chicken. But she had major beef con los Mexicanos behind the counter as she liked to call them, because they kept giving us 1 or 2 packets of ketchup every time we went there and not filling the box to her standards. You know you just can’t give a kid a pack or two of ketchup. We love ketchup.

So one day, we went and los mexicanos behind the counter got the boche (tongue-lashing) of their lives. To quote: ‘Dame mas ketchup porque ustedes siempre me dan un paquete solamente. Y pon mas papas por dios. Yo vengo aqui casi dos veces a la semana.’

This is a 70 year old lady at the time so they had no choice but to meet her request. Plus, you can’t forget she may have spent 1,000’s of dollars there in her lifetime. So off we went with my pollo con fries and I spilled my six packs of ketchup onto the plate and enjoyed my meal while watching cartoons.

So once I stopped going to my Grandmother’s after school, I didn’t eat Caporal as much – only when I visited her on weekends.

Did I lose my love for Caporal as I entered my teenage years?

Not one bit. At that age, you eat fattening, stomach pleasing food even more. I started going during the week with some of my friends after school. I even brought dates to Caporal. Yes, I did. At least the girls I knew I kind of had in the bag. I figured it was a bit more creative than McDonalds; and come on, I wasn’t working so mommy’s allowance was all I had. So I would sit them on the heater in there (no seating) and eat chicken there; or take it to Riverside drive and over look the water.

Now let’s talk about the chicken. It’s so soft and crispy. You can taste el sabor latino in it right away. It’s like fried chicken was drowned  in a sea of Goya products. It’s like they just threw a bunch of adobo on it and other stuff that our parents use. Oh, and the skin is just exquisite. We all know that’s the worst part of chicken that we can because it’s so fattening, but it’s just so irresistible. You just can’t help yourself.

So when are the good times to go?

I usually make sure to go to Caporal mid afternoon and after work. I don’t recommend it early morning cause they taste like leftover’s and not fresh. What other time? Well, if you’re drunk and hungry at 4AM coming from el club, there’s nothing better than John’s Fried Chicken. Forget El Presidente on 165th and Dyckman Express – nothing beats the feeling of fried chicken and fries late at night while intoxicated.

Any other stories? But of course. Once, me and my friends got caught by the police while playing Dominos after hours in a park in Riverdale. We got a ticket for playing Domino’s and because they suspected we were guilty of the several fried chicken boxes laying around us. I guess no one else in Riverdale eats Caporal. There was also a time when we were eating Caporal in Cabrini and racoons creeped up on us and caused us to drop our chicken and run. In the summer time, everyone sits down on Riverside drive. We took up a spot and tried calling over all the girls that passed by. We didn’t stop to think that guys trying to shake a girl’s hand with chicken grease all over it, isn’t exactly the most appealing thing to a female.

Man, those were the days.

Today though, I won’t lie, I don’t go as much. When the 157th 1 train doors open, you can smell the chicken from there. It’s that strong. I can only imagine the people that live in the building above it or in the neighborhood. You don’t know how many times I’ve held myself back from hopping off the 1 and buying a snack box.

But I have held myself back. There are some factors that contribute to this. Snack boxes are close to $5.00 now. Eating pollo frito isn’t the healthiest thing in the world, and as you get older, man you just get lazier. I mean, at least I have. 157th doesn’t seem as close to Dyckman as it once was.

But in the end, I’ll never leave it. It’s been a part of my life for 21 years. I know it’s been a part of the life of others for much more. I haven’t been to Caporal since early March. I’ve been cheating on her with John’s Fried Chicken on 207 and Post. Just make sure she doesn’t find out. I’ll be back there in the summer months. Who knows? We at the Uptown Collective may even setup a Caporal meet-up on a Saturday afternoon so people in the neighborhood can get together, eat fried chicken, and politic. You think I’m kidding? I’m dead serious; and I’m sure if we do setup an event like this, hundreds of people will turn out because Caporal isn’t just a place, it’s a part of our lives.

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  • JLS
    March 1, 2011 at 2:25 am

    No worries man, being dark-skinned has got nothing to do with it. Me and my friends loved Caporal and we are pale as hell.

  • Janey
    April 3, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    What happened to Pollo Caporal?? I drove past it today and it was closed! How could this happen!!

  • dmdz
    October 8, 2012 at 2:11 am

    I miss pollo caporal in 157!!!!anyone know where dey opened up now..? Cuz 157 is closed..:/im ao craving it right now..

    August 7, 2014 at 8:16 am


  • PercyJ
    September 26, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    I Googled it and I believe that they have opened a spot in Miami. I may head out that way just to check it out…
    That was some good assed chicken

  • notinthematrix
    October 10, 2019 at 11:48 am

    Back in the early 80s, when I was single, in my early 20s, and living alone in a small apartment on 158th between Broadway & Amsterdam, I spent a small fortune on Snack Boxes at Caporal Chicken. In order to spend a small fortune at Caporal, you have to eat there A LOT. But, hey, it was in my budget and I loved it! I took a friend from down south to Caporal probably in 2006 or 2007, and he loved it just as much as I did, and it hadn’t changed a bit in all those years. Well, today, I was reminiscing about the neighborhood and was looking at Google Maps when I discovered that Caporal is no longer there! Some store named Monumental Empanadas is now located there! I feel like I’ve been robbed! You are so right: “… Caporal isn’t just a place; it’s a part of our lives”!!! And now I feel like I’ve lost a childhood friend. 🙁

    • Solyanela Escudero
      December 27, 2020 at 6:02 pm

      That is so true I used to lived in 151 street In Amsterdam Ave and we use to go there almost every week to buy the snack box that place was always full but the lines move very quickly. Just like you said when you were on that train you look forward to that smell coming out of that train station ever since they close that train station has not being the same. I was in shock when I saw that empanada place and not my favorite fry chicken spot.😢

      • notinthematrix
        January 7, 2021 at 11:09 am

        Interestingly, back in the 80s when the neighborhood were a lot of crime and drugs in the neighborhood, it seemed like the area still had more sense of a community and was a better place to live. I lived at 559 W. 158th Street, right on the corner of Broadway, and the worst of the violence and drugs was just one block away. But I never felt in danger, not ever, and I was never threatened, except by the police. Back then, few white people lived up there and when the police saw me coming up out of the subway, they automatically assumed I was there buy drugs. I didn’t move there to buy drugs. I moved there because–like many of the people who lived there–that is all I could afford. But I came to know and LOVE that community, and it–and Caporal Chicken–will forever be entrenched in my heart and mind as one of the happiest times in my life!