New York-born actor, singer, songwriter and podcaster Rafi Fuentes loves the ever-changing face of Hell’s Kitchen. This is his West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born in NYC on the Upper East Side and lived in Chelsea as a baby. Grew up in Bermuda — the island, not the triangle! Now I’m a New Yorker, according to Carrie from Sex and the City, and living in Hell’s Kitchen.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
My first job was working at the front desk of an Equinox gym right by my dorm. I’m an actor, singer (tenor) and songwriter. My survival job is guest services at a Google campus.
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
The Unexpected Date: when you casually connect with someone at a random place and they join you for a coffee or a Target run.
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
I love how I’ve witnessed so many changes in Hell’s Kitchen. I’ve heard stories that it wasn’t very safe during the 80s — and before, I’m sure. I’m proud of what it has become and how well it adapted during the pandemic with the nifty outdoor seating. I enjoy all the restaurants and cafes and nightlife. I love how central it is and walkable to many areas of the city.
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
I’m a multi-linguist. A big fan of Romance and Slavic languages.
What else should we know about you?
I studied audio engineering during the pandemic as an extra career. I enjoy doing music production, editing and sound design. That’s also how I got into podcasts and got to develop a show with two friends during an internship I had with DNR Studios. The Cookie JAR podcast is an hour of hot nonsense and current events. You can follow our journey on the IG: @cookiejarshow
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Rafi’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
Empanada Mama — 765 9th Avenue (bw W51/52nd St)
Best empanadas of the West. I remember when it was a matchbox next door. I love to pair their delicious empanadas with their red sangria. After they had a fire, they closed down for a long while. One night I had a dream that it was relocated to the lobby in my apartment building. It was so vivid. They’ve now added fun merch at their current, bigger, location.
Bird and Branch — 359 W45th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
Great owners that cater to great quality. Yummy and eclectic lattes and baked goods.
La Pulperia — 623 9th Avenue (corner of W44th St)
Really great happy hour with yummy cocktails and bites, at a great price. Love their lychee martini.
Nizza — 630 9th Avenue (bw W44/45th St)
One of the best frozen aperol spritzes
Lovely’s Old Fashioned — 642 9th Avenue (bw W45/46th St)
New to the hood. Nostalgic burgers that hit the spot. Open late!
Amy’s Bread — 672 9th Avenue (bw W46/47th St)
Best cardomom ring during Easter. Place your order for Easter 2024!
Zillions — 360 W42nd Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
A new pizza spot in the ‘hood. It’s open late and the friendly servers serve up a yummy slice.
Bareburger — 366 W46th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
Great selection of burgers for meat eaters and vegans. Yummy sides and shakes.
Galaxy Diner — 665 9th Avenue (corner of W46th St)
The place for late nights out in the city and great breakfast food paired with healthy shakes
Kausa — 745 9th Avenue (bw W50/51st St)
Genuine Peruvian food with a bar if you wanna get happy. I love the Ají de gallina dish. It’s a delicious creamy chicken stew.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I love exploring my neighborhood and making new friends. I love to people watch and walk endlessly in my city. I’m also open to meeting my other half. It’s a hard city to date, but I still have hope. Why don’t we start with an iced coffee and take it from there?
You can follow Rafi on Instagram @rafi_fuentes. If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself), please fill in this form — w42st.info/WSSnominations.
You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.