Asian-Latino Fusion Is Timeless—These 3 NYC Restaurants Prove It

The legacy institution meets the scrappy upstart

chino latino fusion nyc
Marissa Wu/Paula Boudes/PureWow

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had a distinct notion of Asian fusion cuisine. My childhood and adulthood are both anchored in traditional Chinese dishes. Think: whole roasted duck, steamed fish with heads on (and eyes intact), mapo tofu so spicy it could rival the spice on Hot Ones and garlic eggplant with fried tofu. But we weren’t going to eat fusion food with my immigrant grandparents, because fusion was simply a nice way of saying it catered to the local population—whether that meant toned-down flavors or exorbitantly priced fare. 

Fast forward to 2020 and I’m scrolling through Instagram, when a video stopped me in my tracks. I saw a girl who looked like me, speaking perfect Spanish and saying that she grew up in Puerto Rico. Honestly, the concept shouldn’t be too mind-blowing: My father has cousins in Rio de Janeiro. But coming face to face (digitally, anyway) with her made me wonder: How do Asian and Latin cultures overlap? After more research, I realized a range of nationalities and immigrant communities have been co-mingling for decades—and their greatest collaborations are perhaps most evident through their food.

From California to New York City, you can find Asian-Latino fusion food everywhere, the latter being a particularly robust hub. The crossover may sound surprising, but according to a paper published by UCLA, the number of Asian Latinos in the United States is around 300,000 as of 2012. However, the history of Asian immigration to Latin America dates back to the late 1500s. Notably, there was an influx of Chinese immigration to Cuba in the 19th century by way of the Manila galleon trade and again in the 1940s and ’50s as many fled China’s communist revolution. 

Similarly, thanks to an immigration policy brokered between Japan and Peru, many Japanese emigrated there in the late 19th century. Because most emmigrants were men, they married into the local population, resulting in blended families—and food. Many eventually moved to the States as unrest grew in their adopted home countries. (Notably, Cuban-Chinese resettled in Puerto Rico, Florida and New York after the 1959 revolution.) Consequently, fusion restaurants started popping up in the U.S. in the late ’60s, continuing with mainstays like La Dinastia opening its doors in 1986.

For PureWow’s Cuban-American food editor, Taryn Pire, the concept of Chino-Latino fusion food is nothing new. “I remember visiting Nuevo Jardín de China in Astoria frequently with my dad and abuela as a kid,” she shares. “It was a longtime Cuban-Chinese restaurant around the corner from where my dad grew up on Steinway Street. I remember being struck and comforted by hearing Asian servers speak in our familiar accent as they effortlessly rushed a mélange of dishes to our table, from congrí and rabo guisado to shrimp in garlic sauce and chow mein. I was devastated to hear that the Queens institution was recently shuttered.”

This is unfortunately becoming more and more common. The New York Times reports that these outposts once numbered at least 20 in the Big Apple, but today, much fewer remain. However, thanks to—what else?—some viral internet fame, Asian-Latino food is being catapulted to the forefront of fusion cuisine. From OGs like La Caridad on West 72nd to chic establishments like Mission Ceviche to fast-casual upstarts like Forsyth Fire Escape, these restaurants prove that Asian-Latino fusion food is alive, well and simply evolving.

chino latino fusion nyc: la caridad 72
Taryn Pire
  • Cuisine: Cuban-Chinese
  • Address: 130 W 72nd St. (Upper West Side)

La Caridad, located in the Upper West Side, is one of the original Chino-Latino establishments in the city. (Scholars say this neighborhood once had many Hispanic residents.) Here, the dishes aren’t so much “fusion” as they are served side by side, meant to complement each other. Take the lo mein served alongside maduros (sweet plantains), or masitas de cerdo (Cuban-style fried pork) plated with mojo and fried rice.

In old-school fashion, it was tough to get in touch for an interview (I could hear how busy they were over the phone), and the owner was in such a flurry directing orders and waiters that Pire wasn’t able to speak with him when she visited. The website is sparse, and their social media feels more like an AOL chat room where you’d put your best friends on blast, but that’s part of the charm. There’s no parading, no pomp, no performance—just tradition, doing things the way they’ve always been done and sitting in a liminal space, stemmed from necessity, that’s now a beloved neighborhood fixture. 

“The service was warm, the menu was unpretentious and the food came out in a flash, a la your favorite Chinese takeout spot,” Pire recalls. “The portions were also rustic and generous, despite how affordable the meal was. It really took me back to being at Nuevo Jardín with my dad and abuela.”

chino latino fusion nyc Mission Ceviche
Marissa Wu
  • Cuisine: Peruvian-Japanese 
  • Address: 1400 2nd Ave. (Upper East Side); 7 East 17th St. (Union Square)

When Taryn and I arrived at Mission Ceviche on 2nd Avenue in the Upper East Side, we were struck by the decor. The establishment has an elevated feel that’s more akin to what I know fusion food to be. The vibe was upscale, artistic and pricier than what you’ll find at veteran Chino-Latino joints. Influences of each cuisine dance delicately with each other on the menu: the roll acevichado, a sushi-ceviche hybrid; lomo saltado, an iconic Peruvian steak dish seasoned with a Chinese-inspired marinade, and a vibrant lineup of ceviches, all influenced by Japanese sashimi both in terms of fish quality and preparation. Take the mahi mahi tiradito, yellowfin tuna tartare and mixed seafood ceviche that the chef prepared for us. They’re made with both Japanese ingredients, like ponzu, yuzu and togarashi, and Peruvian staples, like aji amarillo and red habanero.

Chef and founder José Luis Chavez, the son of a Peruvian father and Colombian mother, was raised in Venezuela. After some soul-searching, he eventually ended up in Peru, where he attended culinary school.

Peru has a rich history of both Japanese and Chinese immigration, whose fusion cuisines have come to be known as Nikkei and Chifa, respectively. Some dishes are so innate to Peruvian food that one may not label them fusion at all. (Take arroz chaufa, a Peruvian spin on fried rice.) The cultural influence runs so deeply that, as Chavez explained, Japanese cooking techniques are taught in Peruvian culinary schools. “You walk on the street and you smell the soy sauce, the garlic, the ginger,” he remembers. “That's my favorite.”

“[Japanese] sashimi demands a perfect cut, perfect technique. Then, [that’s] where Peru comes in with the flavors,” Chavez continues. “It's a bite [that’s like] salsa or merengue, boom, boom, boom. Peru brings the chili peppers, lime, ceviche, all these products from Peru.”

chino latino fusion nyc: forsythe fire escape
  • Cuisine: Dominican-Chinese
  • Address: 601 West 26th St. (Chelsea)

Founded in 2021 in a tiny Lower East Side kitchen, Forsyth Fire Escape marries the flavors and dishes of founders Isabel Lee and Luis Fernadez’s Chinese, Thai and Dominican heritage. 

As the new guard of Chino-Latino fusion cuisine, they fittingly built their business through word of mouth on social media. While they were still operating in the Lower East Side, Grace Young, a well-known advocate and community organizer for Chinatown, gave them a shoutout. Then, everyone wanted to buy a burrito lowered from a fire escape via plastic bucket.

The community came around in other ways, too. When the duo received a cease-and-desist letter from their landlord as Forsyth was picking up steam, their local Dominican bodega stepped in so they could fulfill a pile of orders.

Forsyth Fire Escape has the laid-back, unpretentious sensibility of La Caridad (they took up residence at Olly Olly in 2022) along with the playfulness of Mission Ceviche's more modernized fusion style. The scallion pancake burrito takes the crispy Chinese flatbread and loads it with pernil (Latin-style roast pork), fried queso blanco, guacamole and lemongrass chili oil crisp. In addition, they churn out the Plantain, Egg and Cheese (their vegetarian, handheld take on a classic Dominican breakfast) and the Chicken #SPB, made with Thai-inspired coconut rice and lemongrass chicken. At Forsyth, it’s not so much one cuisine pulling from another or separate dishes served side-by-side. Lee and Fernandez serve a literal mash-up (burrito case en point), constantly experimenting to create new dishes, discontent with riffing on tradition. Here, though, the fusion isn’t just in the food. 

Lee possesses a cool, calm, no-nonsense demeanor, while Fernandez gives off a dreamer’s free-wheeling energy, loaded with possibility. “We’re very different, but work well together in a business because whereas I like to create a strategy, sometimes it [takes a while to execute],” Lee says. “Whereas he’s just like, go, go, go, go, go. Sometimes he doesn’t know where he's going, but he’s going somewhere, you know?”

Forging the Way Forward

Ultimately, whether you prefer old-school simplicity or new-wave elegance, Asian-Latino fusion cuisine shows that, time and again, as with all food, it’s about community, and unifying people—even when differences loom large. 

“It started out as a way to bring people together through food, during a time in Chinatown when a lot of businesses were shuttered,” Lee remembers. “People weren't going there, [they] were scared. It’s a way to start a conversation and people get exposed to it. That’s how you start to build that awareness, shedding light on our communities. If [you’re doing that], then you’re moving in the right direction.”

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