WATERBURY — Patricia Law Li recently opened La BoriChina, a Puerto Rican-style Chinese restaurant, on Meriden Road.
The restaurant serves a variety of Latin-Chinese fusion options, including new food items like fried chicken and egg rolls that weren’t possible in a food truck Law Li operated, due to a lack of equipment. Some of the popular food items include octopus salad, mofongo-ajo, fat-grilled chicken breast, fried plantains with garlic and sweet and mashed plantains.
“The feedback that I’m getting (from customers) is that it took them back to the island, the flavoring, and then the experience inside the restaurant because of the design,” Law Li said. “Once I open the restaurant, I want them to feel like they’re on a piece of the island. That they have some emotional momentum where they are like, ‘Oh, I feel like I’m in Puerto Rico.’”
Law Li said the grand opening of La BoriChina on July 10 went “amazingly.” Locals told Law Li that they waited outside of the restaurant beginning at 8 a.m., despite the restaurant not opening until 11 a.m. Other customers traveled across the state.
Rep. Geraldo Reyes Jr., D-Waterbury, and Yoellie Iglesias, the executive director of the non profit organization Madre Latina Inc. and friend of Law Li, also went to support the grand opening of La BoriChina. Reyes was involved in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the restaurant.
“I was very honored to be there,” Iglesias said. “They had a lot of people. The line was long, and people were really excited that she had a new place. And the food was amazing. The Latino community here is very large, and having a restaurant that fuses Puerto Rican and Chinese food was a wonderful idea.”
Last summer, Patricia and Kenneth Law Li opened La BoriChina’s food truck on the corner of 718 West Main St. on Aug. 12. The grand opening, two years in the making, was a massive success for them and their family. It earned thousands of followers on social media and long lines with residents from across the state anticipating food from the Latin-Chinese fusion spot.
The Chinese family-run business started in Puerto Rico, with multiple restaurants across the island spanning around 40 years. Due to Hurricane Maria, the family had to close many restaurants, but one is still in operation on the island today. Patrica Law Li’s family is Chinese but she was born in Puerto Rico, so she and her family are fluent in Spanish. Her family doesn’t live in Connecticut but only flew to the state from Puerto Rico to help with the business.
In Puerto Rico, there are many Chinese restaurants similar to La BoriChina. However, Patricia explained that Connecticut lacked an eatery that served Puerto Rican-style Chinese food. While Patricia was living in Connecticut, away from her hometown in Puerto Rico, she talked with her family about the possibility of opening a Latin-Chinese restaurant in the state. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the family opted for a food truck instead of a traditional restaurant.
“We decided why don’t we try with the food truck,” she said. “And with COVID, food trucks were trendy. It’s outdoors, so it worked out. The line was like a five- or six-hour wait. I had a lot of support. A lot of people come out from all the tri-states, (and from) like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Boston, and Rhode Island. So I had many people coming out to the city of Waterbury. It was a little chaotic because it was causing a lot of traffic and stuff, but it wasn’t that bad.”
After a successful four months of operation, the family of seven closed the food truck in November because of the winter weather. For months, Patricia has gotten hundreds of messages on her Facebook and Instagram page asking when they plan to reopen their doors. After a year and a half of construction and finalizing the details, the family opened their brick-and-mortar restaurant on July 10.
“I had pressure from the public and, as a business person, I obviously didn’t want to lose my clientele,” she said. “And you know, not only Hispanics, but everybody, they get desperate when they really want to eat your food. Even when I’m hungry, I get desperate. I like to go eat. But I didn’t want to let them down, and I was rushing my construction workers. I was rushing everything because I really wanted to open for the summer. But I also wanted to make an impression on, you know, the location so people can see the hard work and the reasons why it took this much time to open.”
One of Patricia’s goals when she opened the restaurant was to provide more jobs to Waterbury’s residents.
“So since we have so many clients and it was seven of us inside that 21-foot truck, we were bumping into each other kicking each other, it was a mess,” Patricia said. “And then I wasn’t able to hire anybody because of the bumping and all that stuff, you know. So now that I was able to open an establishment, I’m able to provide jobs for people out in the community, which I did hire a few. I’m still in the process of hiring more as we go.”
Now that La BoriChina opened, an additional goal for the family is to make it a chain of restaurants in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey and two more in Connecticut.
“I say if people have curiosity, don’t just look at the menu,” Patricia said. “Don’t just go by any word of mouth. I want (customers) to come and experience what we offer on the menu. I want them to experience themselves to try it out. Don’t judge a book by its cover, no matter if it’s pretty or if it’s ugly. Come for yourself and try us out.”
At the time of publication, the restaurant is not taking pick-up orders through their website, phone or drive-through. However the menu is available on the restaurant’s website, laborichina-ct.com.