In the Hub of the South Bronx, salsa, reggaeton and hip-hop music blares from every direction. The neighborhood vibrates with frenzied energy as dozens of people walk, talk, and zigzag their way from store to store and corner to corner. The air is filled with the sound of busy streets and smells of grilled meat.
On the east corners of 152nd Street and Third Avenue are two kebab carts. They both have the signature Sabrett’s umbrellas in yellow and blue and both sell hot dogs and meat on a stick, or as the locals refer to them, pinchos. (Pincho means spike in Spanish as the South Bronx neighborhood is 68% Hispanic and has been predominantly so for decades.)
Occupying the north corner is Mama’s Kabob’s which has been selling food to hungry workers and shoppers at the same location since 1968, as indicated by the logo on their cart and the worker, Eddie Burdo, “We’ve been here 54 years,” he says.
“This has been here since I was a baby, I’m 46,” says Melissa Caldero, who is standing in line waiting to order. Others chime in and begin to tell me how many years they’ve been coming, announcing it like a badge of honor, “I’ve been coming here seven years,” said one woman. “Over 20,” said another.
The business has been there so long that some customers don’t even have to order. They just show face and Burdo goes to work.
On the south corner is Kebab Stasion (sic) which moved to their current location five years ago according to worker, David Cardona. Several customers confessed to never trying Kebab Stasion out of loyalty or habit, while others insist that they go to Mama’s because it’s just better.
I approach Cardona about the alleged encroachment on Mama’s turf, to which he responds, “Actually, it’s the same exact guy that opened this in 1968 and when he retired, he sold it to two different people.” The guy: Spiro Exarhos.
I proceed to order one from each and give them a taste test.
Both are beef and served with BBQ and hot sauce. They both have a wonderful char on the outside and the flavor of smoke permeates into the meat. Both are equally tender and will satisfy any carnivorous hankering. The BBQ sauce is sweet and poured on heavy. It drips from the meat so that you must stand hunched forward with your legs spread and your butt out, lest you get some on your shoes or down your shirt. Others have acquired the same position. One poor lady beside me has BBQ sauce dribble down her chest. I let her know as I hand her a napkin. She laughs while she wipes herself, albeit completely missing the stain.
I invite others to a taste test. 10 people are tallied, and the score is 5:4, Mama’s with the win, with one undecided, a gentleman named Francisco who is sitting on a milk crate enjoying his pincho. “I can’t tell the difference,” he says. I lean in towards him and cup my hand to my mouth like I’m telling him a secret and whisper, “Neither can I.”