A For Rent sign went up on Thursday at La Caridad 78, the Cuban-Chinese restaurant that has been a staple in the neighborhood for more than 50 years. The sign confirmed what several neighbors had expected for days after seeing people remove all the furniture and other items from the inside — the restaurant on the corner of 78th and Broadway is closed. The restaurant’s phones said that voicemail isn’t connected.
La Caridad 78 gave Upper West Siders a unique culinary adventure. Owner Raphael Lee, a Chinese man who had grown up in Cuba, opened the restaurant in 1968. Raphael had fled Cuba after Fidel Castro took over, his son Sam said.
Some of the food was clearly more Cuban, like a Cuban-style roast pork. And some was clearly more Chinese, like baby shrimp lo mein.
But much of the food was a mix of Chinese and Cuban cooking, with dishes like special fried rice with plantains. The blog Cuban New Yorker wrote about Cuban-Chinese cuisine and La Caridad in 2012:
Chinese-Cuban cuisine is not about the creation of any single syncretic dish, but rather, the juxtaposition of Cuban and Chinese favorites, pepper steak with black beans and rice, for example. The juxtaposition goes beyond the menu to the décor and even to the personnel. The décor (if we can call it that) is punctuated by yellowed magazine and newspaper reviews of the restaurant, and presiding over all of it is a framed image of La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, the restaurant’s namesake and the island’s Catholic patron saint, who looks over the restaurant’s tables with their Chinese zodiac paper placemats. The manager is Antonio Wong and the waiters speak to customers in either English or Spanish, but in Cantonese among themselves. The whole scene is one incredible anthropological mélange.
Great Big Story made a video about the restaurant when it was open. Sam Lee says “I would say La Caridad restaurant is not a restaurant. It’s a kitchen for Upper West Siders.”
Thanks to Bayly and Miri for the tips.