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A new restaurant opened in Irvine to celebrate Central America and Mexico’s Independence Days. Well, to be precise, a miniature restaurant.
The venue, Pocha, was abuzz with activity leading up to the lunch hour. Plates were piled high with chilaquiles, eggs, beans and tacos. Some of those plates ended up on the floor but were quickly picked up by the servers.
Four-year-old Carmel Gonzalez was taking orders.
“Mom, what would you like to drink?” she asked.
“I would like horchata,” her mother, Gladys, said.
Here at Pocha, an interactive exhibit at Pretend City Children’s Museum in Irvine, all of the food items are inedible and made of plastic, rubber and cloth. The exhibit is a shrunk-down version of Claire Risoli’s restaurant Pocha LA in Highland Park. 
The museum proposed the project to Risoli and then dined at her restaurant to get ideas for recreating it for kids.
“I love the idea of being able to teach diversity and culture, inclusion and equality through food,” Risoli said at the opening of the exhibit on Friday.
That’s the idea behind the restaurant at Pretend City, which changes periodically to showcase food from different cultures (the previous restaurant theme was Korean barbecue).

Pocha, or the male pocho, is a sometimes derogatory term for Mexican Americans deemed to have forgotten their roots, like by not knowing Spanish. But Risoli has come to embrace her pocha identity.
“I realized we’re all pocho, we’re all something else, we all came from somewhere else or our family did,” she said. “So it’s just really learning to be who you are, and owning it, and having fun with it.”
Besides learning about the many cultures that make up Orange County, Pretend City’s Chief Operating Officer Maria Tinajero-Dowdle said playing at the fake restaurant helps teach kids cooperation.
“You see kids that don’t even know each other and it’s like someone’s taking the order, someone’s cooking, someone’s like serving the other person’s parent,” she said.  
In the crowded dining room, Carmel’s brother Thomas, 3, served a heaping plate of what looked like everything on the menu to their dad, Eduardo. He said they love to pretend that they’re cooking and serving food.
“I think pretending that they’re doing that, it reminds them of their parents and grandmothers,” he said.

How To Visit


The mini Pocha restaurant at Pretend City Children’s Museum will be open through spring 2023.
More details on how to visit are available on the museum’s website.

LAist is part of Southern California Public Radio (SCPR), a member-supported public media network. Hear our news on-air at our partner site:
Live Stream Schedule In Person

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