Adios (goodbye) and zai jian (goodbye) to La Caridad 78, a Cuban Chinese restaurant beloved by Upper West Siders from the late 1960s until its recent closing. As an urban anthropologist might explain, the combination of Cuban and Cantonese comfort foods is not accidental, and has interesting roots in modern political history.
Many Chinese came to Latin America as indentured servants in the late 19th and the early part of the 20th century. They established businesses, worked as laborers and founded Chinese schools. Over time they would speak both Chinese and Spanish, while carrying on the culinary traditions of both cultures. Unsettled by the Castro regime, many came to New York in the 1950s and for the following 30 years, seeking a more secure life for themselves and their families.
The restaurant business always had a place for comfort food before uber-sophistication began evolving around 1960. Serving up Chinese and Cuban kitchen foods appealed to new immigrants as a business. That these dishes could be prepared inexpensively, in large portions for locals who enjoyed their novel, spicy flavors was a recipe for enduring success – until Covid.
As the menu offered fried plantains and frijoles negros (black beans), spicy roast chicken and crispy pork filled dumplings, bistec en escabeche (marinated steak) with vegetables, pork chops with red beans and yellow rice, and sesame chicken, customers could order combinations of both cuisines or share a variety of platters with friends, and savor flan for dessert.
La Caridad 78 was opened by Raphael Lee in 1968. His son Sam Lee continued the business over the later years when only one Cuban cook, Raphael Wong, remained. Most others were Chinese. In the early days especially, La Caridad was crowded, sometimes with lines out the door. Thousands of reviews through the years reveal great affection among both tourists and local residents for this bustling, unpretentious, sometimes noisy restaurant where the staff was friendly, Cubano music played and you never went away hungry.
Minus La Caridad 78, the southwest corner of 78th and Broadway will never seem quite the same.