Caribbean cooking has an unmistakable personality. Bold flavors, locally caught seafood, fresh fruit and unique vegetables are its signatures. The dining scene of Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic, delivers on all of those promises, and more. From high-end restaurants to casual eateries to small street vendors, food with a distinctly Caribbean flair abounds. While it’s not surprising that local cuisine should be delicious, many Santo Domingo restaurants have found success with international cuisine. From Asia to Africa to Europe, international inspiration has made its way into some of the city’s best restaurants, creating a comprehensive dining experience that adventurous eaters will be sure to enjoy.
Pat'e Palo: Samosas and Curries
At Pat’e Palo, a sleek brasserie located in Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone, samosas get a Caribbean flair courtesy of a filling made from guinea fowl. The local poultry favorite is tossed in deep, flavorful spices and combined with local vegetables to create a hearty stuffing for the dish, which is served with a jalapeno yogurt dipping sauce. The crunch of the samosa pastry, the spice of the filling and cool sauce on the side creates a perfect bite, and a serving of two makes it just right for an appetizer to begin your night.
Follow it up with sautéed shrimp in a creamy, coconut curry sauce and finish with Asian pear cooked in sweet wine and honey for a unique and inspired meal bursting with unexpected but welcomed flavors.
Pura Tasca: Tataki and Cocktails
For a lighter bite, the tuna tataki at Pura Tasca is a standout. Tataki is a traditional Japanese method of cooking fish or meat, and at Pura Tasca, the Tataki de Atun makes excellent use of this preparation. The fish is seared very briefly and then sliced thinly and seasoned. A simple arugula salad is served on top of the tuna and lends the dish a nice snap of flavor. A sprinkle of passion fruit sauce provides the opportunity for a nice contrast of sweetness, but the dish could benefit from more than just a light drizzle.
Request a seat outside for a chance to hear the music playing in the nearby Plaza de Espana, and order a glass of passion fruit sangria to sip with your meal.
Laurel: A Little Bit of Everything
If you’re not sure exactly what kind of cuisine you want, head to Laurel. Usually, when a restaurant tries to dabble in too many different types of cuisine, the overall quality of the food ends up suffering. That is not the case at Laurel, an upscale restaurant in downtown Santo Domingo, where around-the-world food offerings all somehow manage to impress. The appetizer offerings alone can take you on a culinary trip, with such bites as Memphis inspired nachos with saucy, crispy barbeque pulled pork, cheddar cheese and jalapeños; Korean spicy shrimp with red curry; and sticky Thai style calamari.
Entrées tend to lean Italian, with plenty of fresh pastas, pizzas, and risottos on offer—including the most delicious, pillowy gnocchi served with thinly sliced churrasco steak and a seafood ravioli stuffed with salmon and shrimp—but burgers, sushi, whole roasted fish and a variety of steak cuts provide other options. The slow-cooked porchetta, in particular, is an indulgence worthy of a vacation meal and don't forget their decadent desserts.
Meson de Bari: Traditional Dominican Food
Of course, as delightful and delicious as can be to see what kinds of innovations restaurants are putting on international cuisine, part of the fun of traveling anywhere is getting to taste the food that place is known for.
When you want that authentic experience in Santo Domingo, the place to go is Meson de Bari. One of the oldest restaurants in Santo Domingo, Meson de Bari is an institution in Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone, and for good reason. The local spot is known as a place where friends, artists, and intellectuals gather to talk and debate over glasses of wine or rum-based cocktails while enjoying traditional food made using techniques that are hundreds of years old. Equally famous for their crab empanadas—which are made with yucca flour—as for the extensive art collection that decorates the restaurant's wall, Meson de Bari is the ideal spot for sampling authentic Dominican food in an atmosphere the most local of locals would enjoy and recommend.
Boca Marina: Fresh Seafood
Since fresh seafood is one of the Caribbean’s signature food staples, no trip to the Dominican Republic would be complete without taking advantage of that. Boca Marina restaurant, located near local favorite Boca Chica beach, gives you that opportunity and offers stunningly beautiful views to boot. Though indoor seating is available, bypass for a table on the restaurant’s dock, where, if you’re so inclined and appropriately dressed, you can take a short stairway down to the water for a dip in the Caribbean Sea while you wait for your meal.
And, speaking of your meal, this is not the place to be shy about shellfish. Seafood platter comes laden with mussels, clams, calamari, and octopus, and whole fish can be ordered grilled or fried. The amount of options on the menu is a little overwhelming, but the more you order, the longer you can linger, taking in the stunning views of the water surrounding you. As a bonus, Boca Marina is also a gorgeous wedding venue, so if you happen to be planning destination nuptials, this is a place to check out!
Food Festivals in Santo Domingo
If you only have a short stay in the Dominican Republic's biggest city, a food festival can be a great way to experience and discover Caribbean cuisine and what Santo Domingo has to offer.
Every year, Taste Santo Domingo is held in mid-October to celebrate the country's chefs and cuisine. More than 30,000 people attend this event annually which makes it one of the Caribbean's largest food festivals. There are tastings, dinners, cooking classes, and other culinary events.
While not specifically a food festival, Carnaval is a great time to enjoy Santo Domingo's food scene. Carnaval, held every Sunday in February brings out revelers, street vendors, and parade-goers in one fun party on the streets of Santo Domingo.
Santo Domingo Is Full of Great Tastes
With so much interesting food on offer—both that which sticks to tradition and that which looks beyond it—Santo Domingo is not a city that can truly be experienced in a day. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to take your time, explore and enjoy. Local culture supports that, from relaxed, long meals to the casual pace of sidewalk strollers.
The inclination of experienced travelers is always to taste the local cuisine, as it should be. When it comes to visiting Santo Domingo though, it is worth to also take the time to taste the result of local creativity combined with international inspiration.
Details About Eating in the Dominican republic
General History: Santo Domingo is the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in the Americas, meaning that the city has a great deal of history in addition to the charm. The Colonial Zone is particularly charming where there are excellent examples of 15th and 16th-century architecture, including the Cathedral and the Alcazar de Colon, both built by Christopher Columbus's brother, Bartholomew Columbus.
Can I Drink the Tap Water in the Dominican Republic?: The U.S. Department of State does not recommend drinking tap water in the Dominican. It is best to drink purified water or bottled water. Most hotels and restaurants will sell bottled water.
How Much Should I Tip?: The Dominican peso is the major currency used in the country, with the value at approximately 45 pesos to $1 USD. Tipping in the Dominican is not the same as in other parts of the Caribbean. Restaurants will include a 10% service charge but you should leave an additional 10%. This is very different than the rest of the Caribbean, where an additional tip is optional. In the Dominican Republic, due to the very low hourly wages, tipping is both expected and appreciated.