Missing My Favorite Washington Heights Restaurants

Due to the pandemic, businesses have been hit hard. Some of the restaurants in my neighborhood of Washington Heights have closed down. In NYC, over 1,000 restaurants have been permanently closed since March 2020. My project shows what my favorite local restaurants look like now since the last time I visited them. 

Going to restaurants means a lot to me and my family. Every week we would go out to eat at many NYC restaurants and had the opportunity to explore interesting foods and do activities together like watch soccer games, attend open mics, and draw. Now, because of COVID-19, I never eat out. We occasionally order takeout, but mostly we cook various meals and eat at home. 

Our dinners are still the same in that we talk about our day while eating and discussing our highs and lows. Sometimes on the weekends, we bring out our four little TV dinner tables to enjoy a nice meal while watching a movie. I’ve never eaten dinner alone. Dinners are important in my family. I still miss being inside restaurants with them, but I have learned that it is just as special eating at home as long as we’re together.

One of my favorite restaurants is Le Cheile, an Irish restaurant on 181st Street. I enjoyed eating at this restaurant a lot, especially  when I was younger.  Their tables were always covered in drawing  paper and they had a cup filled with crayons. The walls were covered in  people’s artworks. My sister and I would always draw while waiting for dinner. I believe this place played a role in expanding my creativity and my love for art. I remember this one specific time when I drew the Le Cheile logo.  I worked on it for almost an hour.  Afterwards, I asked one of the waiters if my art piece could be put up and he did.  I was very happy to see it on the wall.

Since the pandemic, Le Cheile now has outdoor dining that looks very welcoming and has a cool vibe to it. I have not yet gone back, but I hope to soon.

Another restaurant I miss is Tampopo Ramen, a Japanese ramen shop with really delicious food close to our apartment. My family and I would come here after a busy day and we would joke around, laugh, and tell stories. My parents always had ramen, but I enjoyed the karaage chicken and gyoza. It is such a small place, but we liked the cozy environment. 

Tampopo now also has an outdoor dining section that fits its interior. The plants give off a very natural and relaxing setting that I hope to experience soon. We have had their food delivered to our house, but it is not the same without its pre-pandemic atmosphere.

Next is Manolo Tapas, which is a Spanish restaurant that my parents have taken me to since I was a baby. I often ate there with my family and my grandparents.  The staff were always so friendly and happy to see us. I loved watching the soccer games on their flat screen TV. My family and I once watched the FIFA World Cup and it got really emotional. We were all  cheering for Argentina. Unfortunately they lost and I became  frustrated and stared at the medieval-looking walls upset by the loss. My family comforted me and made me overcome the sadness. To this day they still do that when I feel down about anything.

Manolo Tapas is finishing up their outdoor dining area. It is not as open as the other restaurants, so I’m curious to see its final look.  I look forward to eating their tortilla Española and being surrounded by those beautiful brick walls.

A restaurant I definitely miss going to is Malecon. Our favorite Dominican restaurant.  Going here with my family and grandparents was always fun. Isabel, one of the owners, always gave my sister and I a big hug. Walking by, you can’t miss that delicious chicken smell. My mother has been going to this restaurant since she was a teen. It is right across from The United Palace and it's a favorite in the neighborhood .  I always enjoyed going to eat breakfast there, because my sister and I would always order their delicious fluffy pancakes.

Malecon also appears to have made a new place for al fresco dining. With the lights and trees and how beautiful it looks, I would love to eat here soon. During the pandemic, my parents have ordered from here frequently. The food is still as good as usual.  But I do miss eating inside with my grandparents in those comfy booths.

This is the typical Lopez family dinner on a Friday night during the pandemic. This evening  we ordered Tampopo Ramen. We're on our TV tables enjoying our meals and talking to one another about our days before watching a movie together. 

While I miss eating inside restaurants, the pause on eating out has also been good for us. It made our family eat healthier and make more homemade meals. My parents have been very creative this year in trying new recipes. Here is a photo of one of my personal favorite dishes which has my  dad’s chuleta and moro and my mom’s salad. 

Interview with My Mother

What are some of your favorite memories of eating at restaurants with your family?

Getting together with family and friends, sharing food, laughing, and talking.

Is eating with your family the same as it was pre-pandemic?

We still eat dinners together and talk and laugh, but now we are making our own food for every three meals most times and are eating healthier. We haven’t been inside a restaurant since the pandemic.

Do you miss restaurants and their atmosphere while dining?

A little bit because every restaurant experience was different. Restaurants are decorated differently and serve different types of food. I also miss our regular waiters and owners.

Do you think eating meals together can be a way of bonding with your family and if so why? 

Of course. Growing up I always had dinner with my family and now I continue that tradition. It is a time for us to share what we have done during the day while having a delicious meal.

Do you enjoy eating homemade meals over restaurant food? What do you enjoy about it?

I now have more of an appreciation for home-cooked meals and my husband and I have gotten more creative in the kitchen. There is something special about cooking food and eating with my family. I also feel that it is healthier. After all, we know how we’re making the food because we see the food being made and we give such loving attention to the food we make.

Do you think outdoor dining now has a similar feeling to dining pre-pandemic?

Well, I don’t go outdoor dining but from what I see it has changed a lot. Restaurants have become creative in how they have tables and chairs outside their restaurants. Because we live in a city, I feel that all the outdoor seating is still over-crowded and not as pleasant looking as in Europe pre-pandemic. However, I understand why businesses need them. Time will tell how long the outdoor seating will last. If a restaurant is spaced out, I hope to go back to dining out.

Has COVID changed your approach on food from restaurants?

It's changed because I no longer feel as safe dining inside. Also, I am more aware of the fact that others are making my food and now I prefer making food myself. My family and I still do takeout occasionally to support our local businesses, but it’s not as frequent as it used to be pre-pandemic.

Do you believe that you have eaten more healthy because of the pandemic? Why or why not?

Definitely. Because my husband and I are cooking more frequently, we are paying more attention to the kinds of foods that are being fed to our family every day. Because we are trying different dishes, we have been trying to add more healthy options to our meals as well.

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