A mini Mexican restaurant offers culture and cooperation for children

A a new restaurant has opened in Irvine to celebrate the independence days of Central America and Mexico. Well, to be precise, a miniature restaurant.

The venue, Pocha, was buzzing until lunchtime. The plates were filled with chilaquiles, eggs, beans and tacos. Some of these plates ended up on the floor but were quickly picked up by servers.

Four-year-old Carmel Gonzalez took charge.

“Mom, what do you want to drink?” she asked.

“I would like horchata,” said her mother, Gladys.

Here at Pocha, an interactive exhibition at Pretend City Children’s Museum in Irvine, all food items are inedible and made of plastic, rubber and fabric. The exhibition is a reduced version of Claire Risoli’s restaurant Pocha LA at Highland Park.

The museum proposed the project to Risoli then dined at his restaurant to come up with ideas to recreate it for children.

“I love the idea of ​​being able to teach diversity and culture, inclusion and equality through food,” Risoli said when opening the exhibit on Friday.

The Pocha LA kid’s version kitchen includes a warming table where kids can pretend to prepare food.

That’s the idea behind the restaurant in Pretend City, which changes periodically to showcase dishes from different cultures (the previous restaurant’s theme was Korean barbecue).

About these roots

Pocha, or male pocho, is a sometimes pejorative term for Mexican Americans deemed to have forgotten their roots, such as not knowing Spanish. But Risoli has come to embrace her pocha identity.

“I realized that we were all pochos, that we were all something else, that we were all from somewhere else or that our family was,” she said. “So it’s just about learning to be who you are, owning it, and having fun with it.”

In addition to learning about the many cultures that make up Orange County, Pretend City COO Maria Tinajero-Dowdle said playing in the mock restaurant helps teach children cooperation.

“You see kids who don’t even know each other and it’s like someone is taking the order, someone is cooking, someone is serving the other person’s parent,” she said.

In the crowded dining room, Carmel’s brother, Thomas, 3, served a plate full of what looked like everything on the menu to their father, Eduardo. He said they like to pretend to cook and serve food.

An Asian man in a white shirt stands smiling with his arms on the shoulders of a 4 year old Asian girl, who is also smiling.  She is wearing a blue apron and has a plate full of fake food in her hands.

Albert Yoo and his daughter Charlotte, 4, at the cafe at the Pretend City Children’s Museum.

“I think pretending they’re doing this reminds them of their parents and grandmothers,” he said.

How to visit

The Pretend City Children’s Museum’s Pocha mini-restaurant will be open until spring 2023.

29 Hubble, Irvine, CA 92618
(near the center of the Irvine spectrum)

Wednesday to Sunday
10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

$19.95 (children under 1 are free)
Reduced rate for seniors, military and families presenting their EBT card

More details on how to visit are available on the museum website.

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