The country's culinary repertoire includes Spanish, Italian, Middle Eastern, Indian, Japanese, American, certainly Dominican, and nueva cocina Dominicana (contemporary Dominican cuisine). Depending on where you go, you can usually find restaurants at all levels, low, moderate, and high. Santo Domingo, the country's capital, has the best dining scene, as cosmopolitan as any in the Caribbean, with many ethnic restaurants, Italian prevailing. Fresh seafood is universal in the country, the exception being in the mountain areas, where meat, including rabbit, is more the norm.
Restaurants that cater solely to tourists, as do many in the Colonial Zone, often dole out mediocre fare with poor service, yet their prices are escalating. Some of the best choices are in the business districts of the modern cities and in the upscale residential neighborhoods, where the menu prices offer a far better value.
Beach shacks serving simple but fresh seafood can be a fine way to make a great beach day even better. The quality of the food is usually fine, but you should always avoid ice and water unless it's bottled. Go with a cold beer in the bottle rather than a cocktail. Stands that serve cheap eats are an integral part of the culture and landscape, but eat street food at your own risk.
Dominican food does not have a stellar reputation, and it's doubtful that, despite some fusion movements, it will ever be world-class. Rice dishes prevail, and they're usually only "seasoned" with chicken or meat as well as tomato paste. Starchy root vegetables, such as yucca, as well as plantains, are staples, again with just a small amount of meat, and usually the less expensive cuts. Mofango, which consists of mashed green, roasted plantains mixed with shredded pork (or chicken), is very popular. Moro, a combination of seasoned rice and beans (usually brown pigeon peas) is ubiquitous. Soups can be the most flavorful, and the best thick stew is sancocho, usually made with five meats and poultry and served with white rice and avocado slices.
True vegetarian cuisine is rare in the Dominican Republic, but vegetarians can usually make do with the vegetable offerings, though you must always ask if such dishes have any meat in them. In el campo (the countryside) if you say that you don't want meat or that you never eat it, they will think that you are an Americano weirdo. People here only eat small amounts of meat because that is all they can afford.
If you eat dairy, one of the best Dominican specialties is queso frito (fried cheese). Children's menus are about as lackluster as they are in the States, usually listing chicken or fish fingers and hamburgeresas.
Meals and Mealtimes
As in most Spanish-speaking countries, breakfast is called desayuno, lunch almuerzo, and dinner cena. Breakfast can begin as early as 6 am in a hotel, but usually it's 7 and will run until 10 or 10:30. Many hotel rates include some kind of breakfast, and in major properties a buffet is the norm. Some are elaborate, such as the breakfast buffet at the Hostal Nicolas Ovando in Santo Domingo. Breakfast at the Iberostar resorts is among the best at the all-inclusives.
A Dominican breakfast is usually fresh fruit and/or juice, eggs scrambled with cold cuts like ham or salami, mashed green plantains, and dark Dominican coffee. The European-owned bed-and-breakfasts are more likely to serve a continental breakfast with a selection of cheeses and cold meats, German bread or French croissants, and yogurt. Out on the street, breakfast is harder to come by, but you can always find a cup of strong coffee—often too strong for norteamericanos, especially since the coffee has often sat in the pot for hours.
Almuerzo can begin as early as 11 am in the less-expensive eateries, where a daily plato is a mound of moro with chicken for $3 to $4; you'll pay the same price for a bland ham and cheese sandwich on white bread. Restaurants that cater more to tourists and businesspeople usually serve from noon to 2:30 or 3. These will offer a more upscale Dominican special (but most people still want their moro at lunch), as well as lighter fare for the younger crowd.
For dinner your hotel dining rooms and better establishments will open as early as 6 pm, but Americans may be the only patrons until 8:30 or 9, when the Dominicans start to roll in. Restaurants in the capital and its Colonial Zone, as well as those in Cabarete and Sosúa, may serve as late as 11 or midnight during the week, even later on Friday and Saturday. Restaurants in the Zone's Plaza España often will not take reservations on a Friday or Saturday night, or even answer the phone. Many independent restaurants are closed on Sunday night, since the main meal on Sunday is usually in the afternoon. When all else fails, you can hit a colmado (grocery) or gas station that has a minimart.
Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed here are open daily for lunch and dinner.
Credit cards are widely accepted in upscale restaurants, particularly in the capital. Most of the restaurants in Cabarete and some in Sosúa, whether expensive or cheap, don't take them. It's the same situation in the Southwest and in the resort towns of Jarabacoa and Cabarete. Always ask in advance, and keep in mind that even if a restaurant is near an ATM, the machine may be out of money on a weekend. Elsewhere, small local restaurants rarely accept credit cards. American Express is usually only taken in the more expensive restaurants and in hotel dining rooms.
Reservations and Dress
Regardless of where you are, it's a good idea to make a reservation if you can. We only mention reservations specifically when they are essential (there's no other way you'll ever get a table) or when they are not accepted. (Large parties should always call ahead to check the reservations policy.) We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie.
Wine, Beer, and Spirits
The three Bs dominate the Dominican market—Brugal, Barceló, and Bermudez—all very popular brands of locally made rum. Presidente is the most widely known and distributed local beer. It comes in green bottles and is sometimes called agua verde (green water). Brahma and Bohemia beers are the other two cervezas brewed here. Local Dominican restaurants may only serve rum and beer, or they may have a full bar, but if it's an inexpensive place, you may be able to get only cheaper, domestic brands. Small, local colmados also sell wine and liquor. Upscale restaurants usually have only international brands, with the exception of the national rums and beers.
The official drinking age is 18, but usually no one is counting, except at the hip clubs, which attempt to adhere to the law for fear of losing their club license. In Santo Domingo a curfew allows bars and restaurants to serve only until midnight during the week, until 2 am on Friday and Saturday; exceptions are bars, clubs, and casinos in tourist hotels. That is why a lot of young people have adopted clubs like LED in the Hotel Hispaniola. All-inclusive resorts can serve alcohol 24 hours a day. In Cabarete some beachfront clubs must now close as early as 1 am if they're next to a hotel; all bars must close by 3 am.
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