street scene in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic: Old vs. New in Immersive Gastronomy

Santo Domingo may very well be home to the oldest city in the Americas with a plethora of historic sites from the 1500’s, but its fascinating culinary scene is emerging as a trendy hotspot for international tourists. As Dominican Republic’s most cosmopolitan city, I had a chance to see the marriage of the old versus the new food culture scene. The sultry streets are filled with unique colonial-Spanish architecture, the sounds of merengue and an ever-evolving foodie scene. While there, I was able to get lost in the all-encompassing cultural experiences that Santo Domingo has to offer.

street scene in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
From homemade sancocho, a local staple that you can learn to cook from a Dominican chef’s cooking workshops to foie gras with dark beer jam and risotto in squid ink at Pat’s Palo Brasserie. They also served a traditional Dominican spiced goat (chivo encendido) with a pumpkin risotto that was outstanding!
Local food found in the Colonial Zone, santo domingo, dominican republic
Next door at Pura Tasca Tapas Restaurant, pull up a chair and try the Spanish tapas with red, white, and passion fruit sangria! Then experience the merengue vibe of LuLu‘s, which seemed more like a nightclub than a restaurant, but served deep fried croquettes in baby converse tennis shoes! Merengue is the official dance of the Dominican Republic. It is thought that the sound and dance of Merengue originated from the enslaved laborers working in the sugarcane fields. The slaves were connected to one another by a chain that strapped their ankles together, thus, the upper body is stiff while the lower body does the twisting during the dance. You can end the night by stop by the hopping nightlife in the squares for some Mamajuana (rum mixed with herbs) or the local favorite Presidente (beer).
Mamajuana (rum mixed with herbs)
The local scene in the Colonial Zone was exploding into a hotbed for foodies, wine, and spirit lovers alike. Local ingredients and traditional tastes of the Dominican Republic, as well as cosmopolitan foods are represented throughout the city, mostly with a culinary twist to create new flavor experiences for locals and visitors.
Food Markets in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
I navigated the craziness that is the street market scene, where they sold everything from Dominican coffee to sugar cane and cinnamon sticks the size of fishing poles, as well as every bean and fruit that you can imagine. There was a plethora of bananas, as I don’t think I have seen so many all at once in my entire life!
Food Markets in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
While in Santo Domingo, one of the Colonial Zone’s institutional restaurants, the Anthony Bourdain’d Meson D’ Bari, I also had a chance to try crab and conch empanadas with a Cuba Libre served from Macho, Pecao and William, who are like family here and have worked at the bar for over 30 years.
Meson D' Bari, crab and conch empanad, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, colonial zone
They also served tostones (fried plantains), spicy Dominican sausages and strips of tender goat. Meson D’ Bari is a local baseball celebrity favorite and invites area artists to display their painted canvases on the walls of this eclectic two-story painted blue colonial house restaurant. The art ranges from Che Guevara pop art to paintings of fruit and Dominican landscapes.
Markets in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

While touring different restaurants through the crowded, vibrant colonial streets, I came face to face with yuca encebollado (purple onions), red sweet beans with cream (custard), habichuelas con dulce … and a multitude of Dominican gastronomy that is as unique as the island itself. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the North and the Caribbean Sea on the South, the diversity comes from ancient recipes passed down from centuries. The culinary and cultural scenes collide with a mixture of the Taino Indians, (the indigenous culture), the Spaniards, and the African slaves they brought with them. It is the mixing of the cultures and the foods of these people that makes the Dominican Republic what it is today. Even taking a ride outside of Santo Domingo to Boca Chica Beach and eating street food known as Johnnie cakes, was a culinary delight. We also had a seafood platter that was to die for at Boca Marina, a gorgeous, seaside resort and restaurant.

Seafood platter in Boca Chica Beach, Dominican Republic

Back in Santo Domingo, I had a chance to visit the well-known El Meson de la Cava, another Dominican Republic institutional restaurant that was built into a cave originally used as underground housing for the soldiers by the Organization of American States (OAS), serving classic seafood and shellfish.

Where to stay: (the choices are amazing!)

Billini Hotel:  You won’t be disappointed in this boutique, up-scale hotel with a rooftop bar and the views, well, they are pretty amazing!

Rooftop bar and church, hotel Billini, santo domingo, dominican republich

Hostal Nicolas de Ovando: Only the most gorgeous hostal you have ever stayed in (in your life!)

Hostal Nicolas de Ovando, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Casas del XVI: I can honestly say, there is nothing quite like it anywhere else, making Conde Nast’s 2015 Travelers Hot List! You will feel like you are in an oasis!

Colonial Zone, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

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