A “For Lease” sign in the window of La Caridad 78, a Cuban-Chinese staple on the Upper West Side, marks it as the latest closure of the COVID-19 pandemic. Upper West Side residents had earlier seen people remove furniture from the restaurant and claimed that the phone line was inaccessible. No explicit reason for the closure has been announced, but it joins dozens of other businesses that have permanently shuttered due to reduced revenue and restrictions on indoor dining.
All photographs courtesy of Beth Goffe
La Caridad 78 was one of New York’s first Cuban-Chinese eateries. Owner Raphael Lee opened the restaurant in 1968. Lee, a Chinese immigrant who grew up in Cuba, fled to America after Fidel Castro took over. Chinese immigration to Cuba began as early as 1847 when Cantonese and Hakka workers started to work in sugar fields. Tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants arrived in Cuba by the beginning of the 1900s. They formed communities like Havana’s Barrio Chino, one of Latin America’s oldest Chinatowns. In the later-half of the twentieth century, Chinese immigration began to decline. Today, the population of Chinese immigrants in Cuba is only around 400.
La Caridad 78 was known for fusion dishes like a beef noodle soup with Cuban spices, Cuban-style roast pork with rice and yucca, and spare ribs in black bean sauce. Cuban-style rotisserie chicken and ropa vieja were often accompanied by spicy Cuban sauces, Chinese fried rice, and fried plantains. Dishes were colorful and vibrant, with exciting and bold flavors telling the story of a surprising combination of two rather different cultures.
The restaurant gained nationwide attention after YouTube channel Great Big Story profiled it in 2017, drawing 1.2 million views. Manager Sam Lee, son of founder Raphael Lee, is featured along with the restaurant’s last Cuban worker, Antonio Wong. Wong grew up in Havana and began working at La Caridad 78 in 1986 when he moved to the United States. Most of the chefs grew up in China and learned to cook the restaurant’s unique cuisine once in the United States.
Long-time customers and adventurous foodies alike will miss the sound of festive Cubano music, the bustling and unpretentious atmosphere, and the multi-cultural flavor combinations of La Caridad 78’s Cuban-Chinese fare.