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A Look Into Dominican and Puerto Rican Cuisines

When I was growing up, I can recall pulling out four fingers when I would be asked this question: where are you from? It is a simple question yet has an answer that usually surprises people when I reveal what ethnicities I carry with me wherever I go. Counting on my fingers I went in this order, “Dominican, Puerto Rican, Ecuadorian, and Peruvian.” This order of ethnicities that I’ve grown up saying to people for years it has allowed me to begin conversations relating to the different cultures that I, and others, have been a part of because of our families. Music, dance, and history is something I have been able to relate to coming from a South American and Caribbean background, but if there is one thing that always leaves conversations ongoing it has to be on the topic of food. Everyone loves some amazing food to talk about, and luckily for me, I come from a background that has so many foods that leave my stomach growling. Though I have had foods from the different countries that I represent, the two cultures of food that I have been the closest to have been Dominican and Puerto Rican cooking.

A plate of Mangú Con Los Tres Golpes (

My brother and I used to stay with our grandma, who we call Abue, during the long summer breaks from school. From the times that we would stay in her house, the smells of Dominican cooking would make its way throughout the small apartment; smells of Sazón seasoned pollo and arroz, habicuelas con jamon, and mangú. Every time she cooked my brother and I would race to the kitchen to see what she would be making, and to our timing, large plates of food would be ready for us to eat. On holidays, sports events, and family gathering days my family would go to my Abuelo’s house where I would have Puerto Rican dishes; foods like pernil, chivo, and mofongo are some of the foods that we would have. 

These experiences that I’ve had with my Dominican and Puerto Rican side to food and cooking has made me start to think if these homemade foods that I grew to love have made way into restaurant or even culinary spaces. I don’t typically hear of people around me talking about these kinds of Caribbean foods, and due to this, I wanted to take a look at Dominican and Puerto Rican foodways and bring some well-deserved attention to these cuisines. 

It was difficult to find some articles on this desired topic; with every attempted search there were directions to particular restaurants, but it barely moves forward from there. It just shows me how much Domincian and Puerto Rican style cooking doesn’t have the attention that it deserves, and only makes me more intrigued to bring more awareness to the many colorful and delicious foods my peoples makes. In my search though, after surfing the web for some time, I came across an article written on a Puerto Rican restaurant in Astoria, Queens who was visited by none other than Pete Wells.

The Freakin Rican restaurant in Astoria, Queens. (The New York Times)

The restaurant was given only one star by Wells, but the story of how the restaurant came to being was a humble one. First starting as a “snack stand” selling bacalaitos and after saving enough earnings from the stand, catering operation, Facebook page, and their very own “Freakin Rican” line (Wells). Wells goes into the different foods that he tried at Freakin Rican – such as sancocho y mofongo – and had some complements and critiques on his experience trying their food. Reading this article made me go down memory lane to the times that my Abue – though Dominican – has made sancocho and it was amazing. I guess with both countries neighboring each other it isn’t completely uncommon for my Abue to know some recipes that would be considered Puerto Rican and not Dominican; however, I can gladly say that she puts Dominican love into everything she makes.

Bowlful of delicious sancoho. (

Now, back to Freakin Rican. Despite the low rating of this particular restaurant in Queens, it still was one of the few restaurants that has gotten an article published about its existence. It made me begin to question why this was the case? Why is there a minority in Puerto Rican cuisine in New York City? According from Wells, there has been a decline in “family-run cocina criolla luncheonettes” in recent years and many Puerto Rican families have moved to suburbs making the presence of Puerto Rican restaurants to become limited (Wells).

Casa Adela restaurant in the East Village. (New York Times)

Despite there not being any well recognized Puerto Rican restaurants in Queens, where one can find one that has been around in New York City for decades is Casa Adela located in the East Village. This restaurant was first established in 1976 by Adela Fargas and up until her passing in 2018, the restaurant operated with her there. What makes this Puerto Rican spot “famous” and well regarded is due to the perfected rotisserie chicken with its secret seasoning that has had customers always coming back for more for many years (Pearse). There have been celebrities too that are aware of this small restaurant’s existence from the likes of Luis Guzmán and even Benicio del Toro, yet even I wasn’t aware of the restaurant’s presence till I did some research. Casa Adela is one of the few Puerto Rican restaurants that remain around New York City and the fact that it has been around for all these years makes it a hidden gem worth exploring. Casa Adela holds a cuisine that has made many Puerto Ricans feel at home, when home is thousands of miles away.

Casa Adela’s famous rotisserie chicken. (

From just these two restaurants alone, it made me think about how very little there are of these Puerto Rican cuisines in a City that has had numerous Puerto Ricans living here for generations or even in more recent times. Though the population of Puerto Ricans have been declining, this still provides a perspective on how much of a minority Puerto Rican cuisine is in the grand scheme of foodways that exist in the very densely populated city. Speaking about the decline in the Puerto Rican population, with many of my peoples choosing to move into the suburbs, Dominicans have risen in population and even surpassing Puerto Ricans in recent times. According to the New York Post, “a decline in Puerto Ricans plus a rise in people from the Dominican Republic has led to the population shift that could impact the cultural and political scene” (Greene). Despite there being more Dominicans now than Puerto Ricans by population, it is still important to look at Dominican cuisine and reveal as to what makes this cuisine something that should not be overlooked.  

What makes up a lot of the foods one can expect when eating Dominican cuisine is the many starches that are incorporated to the meals; common starches that are used include rice, yucca, potatoes, cassava, and plátanos (McGrath). These core ingredients can be found in a variety of meals, such as La Bandera y habichuela con dulce, paired with a variety of meats to complement the starches; beef, goat, chicken, and pork are the common choices of meats used in Dominican cooking (McGrath). Though this particular article was brief on traditional Dominican cooking, it still offered some context of the foods used in this type of Caribbean cuisine and even offered some history to which Dominican food was cultivated. It is a culmination of Spanish, Taíno, and African influences that come together to create the Dominican food that I have grown up craving for when I visit mi Abue.

Puerto Viejo in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. (

With some information regarding traditional Dominican cuisine, when I was looking for Dominican restaurants around New York City I found one in Brooklyn that caught my eye. It is located on Grand Avenue in Prospect Heights. The restaurant is named Puerto Viejo, which references an old port that existed in La Hispaniola which is modern-day Dominican Republic (Puerto Viejo). What caught my attention to this restaurant when I was researching was oddly enough it is located on a street that I’ve lived by for all my life. Though the Grand Avenue I live next to becomes Grand Street when entering Brooklyn, the coincidence just made me even more intrigued to see more about this Dominican restaurant in particular. Watching the video they have posted on their website, they captured the personality of the family-owned restaurant with a friendly and rustic vibe. In a place that feels very modern, yet traditional at the same time, is what make Puerto Viejo a place where I would love to visit someday. The atmosphere of the physical space makes me feel, at least as a viewer, that when someone comes to eat at the restaurant they are eating a food that is important and deserves its place in the world of culinary practices.

Ajo y Orégano interior with waitress holding platters filled with food. (The New York Times)

The last Dominican restaurant that I discovered when researching is one that is located in the Bronx and this place is called Ajo y Orégno. When looking into the restaurant and reading reviews and a few articles on the space what is amazing about the place is how popular it is. Apparently, customers are more than willing to wait on hour or two to dine here, which is amazing to think about since the first location in Parkchester is small and cozy (News 12). These waiting times are usually the ones one may experience at a higher dining experience and the fact that this small restaurant has this kind of attention only makes me want to give it the attention that it deserves. Despite making traditional Dominican cuisine the overall experience would make one feel that they are transported to the country itself. The co-owner, Enver Perez, even states that “from the decor to the plating, literally everything except for the paint” is from the Dominican Republic (News 12). Ajo y Orégano recently opened its second restaurant that is bigger and can hold more hungry customers wanting some Dominican-style cooking. It is great to see smaller businesses expanding and reaching more people to share the love and flavors of the Dominican kitchen.

After looking into Puerto Rican and Dominican restaurants around New York City, by finding some restaurants that have recently opened or have been around for some time it furthered my understanding that such cuisines really are underrepresented in the culinary world. Caribbean cuisine consists of a history and culture and allows for a plentiful array of food options. In an article titled “The New Caribbean Food Movement,” this article mentions of how there is a rise in Caribbean foods and finding foods from the likes of Belize, Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad to name a few (Wharton). Puerto Rican cuisine was also mentioned in this article and it wouldn’t be long before the other islands of the Caribbean take part in this movement for a rise in Caribbean cuisine.

This dive into these two cuisines has been a journey for me in search of places that I felt were underrepresented; and in this search of Dominican and Puerto Rican cuisines they are certainly in the minority in the culinary landscape. My hope is that as this “New Caribbean Food Movement” takes shape in the near future, that more my people’s food and culture can continue to be passed down and shared with the many people living in New York City. I know that there are always people like myself hungry for something new, and if you happen to be near the restaurants I’ve looked into, please walk in. I can guarantee you that you will find something that you’ll love and keep you coming back for some more wholesome Caribbean cuisine.

Works Cited:

“Dominican Restaurant Ajo y Oregano Opens Second Location in Belmont.” News 12 – Region Select, 22 Jan. 2020,

“Our Story.” Puerto Viejo Restaurant – Dominican Bistro – Brooklyn NY, 8 Apr. 2015,

Greene, Leonard. “Dominicans Now Outnumber Puerto Ricans in NYC.” New York Post, New York Post, 13 Nov. 2014,

McGrath, Jane. “How Dominican Republic Traditions Work.” HowStuffWorks, HowStuffWorks, 25 July 2011,

Pearse, Emma. “Casa Adela in East Village Is the Home of the Magical Rotisserie Chicken.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 June 2015,

Wells, Pete. “Pasteles and Two Kinds of Fried Chicken at the Freakin Rican.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 May 2019,

Wharton, Rachel. “The New Caribbean Food Movement.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 Oct. 2015,

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