Content Produced in Partnership with the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
When you remember a good vacation, chances are you recall what you ate just as vividly as what you did. One meal truly can make or break a trip, and consistent exceptional dining is what makes one destination stand out over a mediocre one. The Dominican Republic has almost more restaurants than the rest of the Caribbean combined so for foodies looking for a beach getaway, this is pretty much mecca.
Upscale dining experiences feature everything from live music to full vegetarian menus ensuring your Dominican Republic food is a tasty treasure hunt. Whether you prefer fine dining or more casual grab and go spots, the DR has something to appease every palate. If you’re wondering what to eat in the Dominican Republic, here are a few of the standout dishes and dining experiences to seek out:
Try the Street Food
A food tour is one of the best ways to get a local feel for a city. Keep an eye out for sizzling empanadas deep-fried right before your eyes (be prepared for serious yolk porn), Oreo churros, quipe (deep fried Middle Eastern croquettes filled with meat and rice), and dangling pork roasted right on the side of the highway.
Take a Cooking Class
Following the direction of culinary guru Chef Martin Omar at Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando, while you wouldn’t necessarily think of soup as comfort food in the blazing summer sun, that’s exactly what is. Sancocho is a traditional Dominican dish of stew served over rice and just one of the dishes we learned to make in our hands-on cooking class. You can use any combination of proteins along with plantains, pumpkin, and other root vegetables to enhance the creaminess. Everyone’s variation is unique, but given that it takes hours to simmer and stew, you can literally taste the love bubbling up in the bowl.
Go on the “See Food” Diet
If there’s one thing islands are famous for, it’s their seafood. Fresh and readily available, pescado frito (fried fish) is commonly found at the beach and markets, but more refined dishes like octopus ceviche, conch empanadas, grilled lobster, and crab creole are worth seeking out. Mason de Bari is one restaurant that’s recommended for traditional seafood dishes in Santo Domingo.
Drink Your Fruits
When most people think island they immediately associate the beach with umbrella cocktails, but the local fruit juices and natural coconut water are equally as tempting. Keep an eye out for their specialty, which is chinola (passion fruit). Typically mixed with carnation condensed milk, they like things sweet in the DR (sugarcane is the main export), but you can also specify smoothies made with regular milk or ice too. If you want to make it a tropical cocktail, beach grape mojitos are popular when in season.
Make it a Meat and Potatoes Night
At its core, Dominican cuisine is uncomplicated. They like pork leg sandwiches, stewed goat, and all types of fried foods: potatoes, tostones (plantains), bread (Johnnycakes), and yucca. Chimichurri sauce makes a great steak topping, while salt never hurt the side dishes. Their local 24/7 fast food chain is called Barra Payan, which serves a variety of pressed sandwiches mostly in variations of ham and cheese.
Peruse the Street Markets
The best way to take in the local sights, smells (this one was especially pungent), and tastes, street markets provide a raw authentic sense of place. It’s the place to find fresh produce with people watching at it’s finest. One to check out is Mercado Modelo in Santo Domingo, which is open daily.
Hit up a Bakery
Sweet paradise just like your great grandma made when she thought you were looking a little thin. Sample the sweet potato custard (probably the favorite thing I ate and I don’t even like sweet potatoes), coconut cake and cookies, flan, and tres leche cake are all delicacies here, and everything has a creamy, milky texture that goes down just a little too easily. If you’re more into savory, you can also get empanadas aplenty and other fried goodies.
Tour a Rum Factory
The Rom Barcelo factory has been around since 1930 and was named the best rum in the world multiple times. The rums are sweet and smooth, aged and distilled in American white oak barrels imported from Kentucky. You can sample their nine varietals straight (don’t miss the cream rum) before tasting the island’s signature drink, a Santo Libre, which consists of rum and Sprite.
Seek Out the Signature Dishes
Mofongo is hands down one of my favorite things we tried, a glorious mashing of fried plantains, garlic ,and chicharron pork skin served in ball form. Jalao in the capital did it up right, and served a number of other signature dishes showcasing the island’s Creole influence (they’re known for their goat too). One of the most common dishes you’ll come across is “La Bandera,” which loosely translates to the “Dominican flag.” A simple plate of rice, red beans, fritters, and stewed or fried meat; you can see how straightforward their typical lunch plates are.
When you need a break from the meat heavy meals, TIME Vegetarian Kitchen is an upscale dining experience in Santo Domingo with a flair for the dramatics. Dishes are sophisticated, yet approachable, and presented with a flourish (think grilled cheese sandwiches suspended over soup and wontons encased in aromatic cloches). The veggie-centric plates are not trying to be meat substitutes and hold their own with the goat cheese, beet, and truffle ravioli being the notable standout.
Cheers with the Local Beer
Don’t forget to cheers with an El Presidente. Dominicans make an art out of keeping their beer cold and the bottles are painstakingly glassed over with a thin layer of ice called “vestida de novia” or “dressed as a bride.”
Whether you opt for one of the many exquisite ocean view restaurants or make your own beach picnic, the water sets the scene for a beautiful evening and trip to remember. Time your meal at dusk because there’s simply nothing like a Caribbean sunset.
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