Neighborhood Eats: NYC Caribbean restaurant thriving despite COVID restrictions

LOWER EAST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- Couldn't we all use a getaway right now? At Omar's Kitchen and Rum Bar on Clinton Street in the Lower East Side, you'll feel transported by both the setting and the food.

"We were always so focused on the inside; the food, the dishes, the drinks, and now it's more about how creative outside and then everything else follows," owner Omar Walters said.

Omar Walters says his restaurant had its best week ever right before New York City went on pause.

But when the virus hit, he closed up shop.

Eventually, he returned to the kitchen to cook meals for first responders.

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That charitable work motivating him to reopen just in time for outdoor seating.

"My sister helped me do the decor for outside," Walters said. "We started with four plants and every day we added another plant and another plant."

"The whole ambiance screams Carnival and tropics and it brings you to a really great space because you don't even think there's a pandemic going on when you sit around here," a customer said.

The Jamaican and Caribbean-inspired food has been a draw from the beginning.

There's the Coco Bread Lamb Sliders served with ackee tartar sauce, the Escovitch Fish, a deep-fried whole branzino served with pickled vegetables, the Curry Oxtail made with coconut curry, butter beans, and spinnas, the Hibiscus Glazed Lamb, a french cut lamb chop smothered in a hibiscus flower glaze and Omar's take on rasta pasta.

"We do a handmade plantain gnocchi. We just put a flare and spin on everything," Walters said.

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"It has a lot of very traditional island flavors that I can appreciate. The drinks are amazing, the food's amazing," another customer said.

Omar's other business, a SoHo loft space for private dinners, hasn't returned in full just yet, but his restaurant has certainly rebounded.

"In March and April, it didn't look promising where we were headed. So it's good to actually see a full house. 'We have a good problem,' I tell people," Walters said.

Omar's is open for dinner Thursday through Sunday and locals know that sometimes lunch is served during the week as well.

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