The Freakin Rican restaurant brings authentic Puerto Rican cuisine to Astoria, Queens

NEW YORK -- Nestled between a laundromat and a pub in Astoria, Queens, you'll find a piece of Puerto Rico.

"Puerto Rican food really feeds the heart and soul. You cook with so much love that you transcend [...] the food," said Derick Lopez, the executive chef and founder of The Freakin Rican restaurant.

Lopez grew up in the South Bronx and remembers going to Latin carnivals with his mother as a child.

"The happiest times were eating the cuchifritos," said Lopez.

Lopez took that passion for food and turned it into a career. He was 34 years old when he opened up his first restaurant.

"I really didn't have much experience and I failed. I was broke. I lost everything, but I learned so much. Since I had so much passion, I sat down to do this again," said Lopez.

He did it this time in the form of food festivals, bringing it back to the very thing that helped fuel his passion for cooking. He called his food truck "The Freakin Rican."

"Thankfully, with the festivals, we were able to self-fund the restaurant. It's authentic Puerto Rican food," Lopez said. "We sell everything from your grandma's pasteles. The mofongo does really well."

Lopez added, "We're all about community. We just want to connect people with the conversation of food. It's crazy how much love comes out of here."

"Growing up in the South Bronx, there were so many Puerto Rican restaurants, almost in every corner. Now there really aren't any because the food takes a lot of labor. You're making all of these things from scratch," Lopez said.

"That was one of the main reasons behind me wanting to open up this restaurant - to represent the Puerto Rican community," Lopez explained. "It's a lot of work, but I'm passionate about it, so that's why I do it."

"All we have is our heritage and our culture. If we don't continue to pass it down to the younger generation, what are we left with?" Lopez asked.

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