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Cafe Restaurant Dominicano, Norcross

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Several Christmases ago, my mother-in-law went all out and rented a beautiful house on the north coast of the Dominican Republic for our family holiday. This house not only had a swimming pool and enough bedrooms for the extended brood, it came with a chef.

Review by John Kessler

Review by John Kessler

For the first couple of days he served us the kind of perfectly OK American and Continental meals most guests want — oatmeal for breakfast, gazpacho and beef tenderloin with mushrooms for dinner.

“Could you make some Dominican food for us to try?” I asked him one night after dinner. He was more than happy to oblige.

The next day we feasted on mangú — mashed plantains — with pickled onions, fried eggs and sausage at breakfast. For the evening meal we sat down to sancocho, a soup thick with different cuts of meat and cubed root vegetables.

Chicharron de pollo with plantains and salad

Chicharron de pollo with plantains and salad (all photos by Becky Stein)

I developed a serious crush on this honest, hearty food at the house and at small nearby restaurants. But I had little success finding any once I returned to Atlanta. Once in a while, when I was driving around an unfamiliar part of town and saw a Dominican flag displayed in front of a storefront, I’d get excited. Almost always it would be a hair parlor.

So count me thrilled to have discovered Cafe Restaurant Dominicano near the Norcross-Tucker border, where the flag leads you to some of the tastiest Caribbean food in metro Atlanta. Owners Cristino Hiraldo and Zoilo Rodriguez opened this modest, dimly lit spot about 16 months ago as a gathering place for the Dominican community. Guests come at lunch for $6 plate lunches from a steam table and at night for a full menu and full bar. Very late at night it morphs again into a nightclub, with live music from a small stage in the corner of the dining room.

Oxtails from the lunch buffet (some moro de guandules lurk in the back)

Oxtails from the lunch buffet (some moro de guandules lurk in the back)

If you visit during the day, you may find some of the tables still pushed off to the side from the evening before. A television will be tuned, loudly, to a soap opera or soccer game. And the steam table will brim with appetizing choices.

A plate lunch consists of one starch (typically white rice, boiled yucca or boiled green bananas), one of a half-dozen meat choices and a big pile of mixed lettuces with corn and tomato slices.

When I can’t decide, the caring woman behind the counter says, “It looks like you’re going to need a taste of this and a taste of that.” I start with a big mound of moro de guandules — rice and pigeon peas cooked with spices and coconut milk. Then, after much discussion and stirring of vats, I get a trio of meats ($11 for the combination plate). What do I like best? The rich oxtails in gravy? The bony nuggets of dark-meat chicken? The pork riblets in a musky red chile sauce? All of it. A tall glass of tart passion fruit punch ($2.50) tastes just right with this saucy food.

Areceli Garcia is your friendly guide to the fine cooking here

Areceli Garcia is your friendly guide to the fine cooking here

As I pay, a conversation with the woman who served me, named Areceli, convinces me to come back for breakfast and try the mangú.

But before I can, I’m back on a Saturday night with some friends to explore the menu. At 8 p.m., the room feels like a party about to happen, with blaring dance music and a room full of diners. We pass on the offerings of the full bar and instead toss back some cold bottles of Presidente lager ($3) while we decide on an attack plan for the menu.

Our server doesn’t speak English as well as Areceli, but she’s just as attuned to our dining needs. When it becomes clear to her that we’re sharing all our food (not the typical dining style here), she decides to course out the meal and gives us sharing plates and serving utensils.

We begin with bowls of mondongo ($8), a thick and velvety beef tripe soup that we crank up with hot sauce and lime wedges. Each little cube of tripe is a tender marvel.

Chivo guisado ($10) brings fantastic hunks of stewed goat in a mild red chile sauce that soaks into fluffy white rice like nobody’s business. These chunks of feathery soft meat and sharp bone have all the snarfable pleasure of pork and all the savory intensity of lamb, but with a character all its own.

Mondongo: each minicube of tripe is a velvety marvel

Mondongo: each minicube of tripe is a velvety marvel

Our waitress clears away these first courses and resets the table with fresh plates for chicharron de pollo ($6.99) — hunks of boldly seasoned and well-fried chicken with pickled onions. We also dig into a fine chillo frito ($15), or whole fried snapper. The fish had been scored to its substantial backbone on both sides and fried to a golden crisp; the strips of flesh pulled off like all-natural fish sticks.

We got all the typical Caribbean side dishes — mounds of salad, crispy fried green plantains, gooey-sweet ripe plantains, stewed pigeon peas with white rice and Puerto Rican-style mofongo, a mound of mashed plantain with a breath-commandeering garlic sauce.

Mofongo has a fluffier, cakier texture than mangú, which is dense and a little sticky. But if I want mangú, I have to come at breakfast or soon thereafter. No problem, since I’ve been dreaming of Dominican breakfast since that vacation and return late one morning. And here it is: a tripleta ($7) — the morning trio of fried eggs (crisp whites, liquid yolks), globby queso frito (fried white cheese) and discs of pan-seared Dominican salami. It comes with a beyond enormous mound of mangú and pickled red onions, which I come dangerously close to finishing.

My only question about this restaurant concerns its name. The sign over the door, the name on the credit card receipt and the name on its Facebook page all have different orderings of the words Cafe, Restaurant and Dominican/Dominicano. Whatever it calls itself, consider it a destination for memorable cooking. If you love Caribbean food, go.

CAFE RESTAURANT DOMINICANO
4650 Jimmy Carter Blvd., Norcross, 770-723-3784
3stars5
Food: Well-prepared Dominican specialties
Service: Extremely caring, but not everyone speaks fluent English.
Best dishes: Chicharron de pollo (fried chicken), mondongo (beef tripe soup), chillo frito (fried snapper), tripleta (Dominican breakfast)
Vegetarian selections: Lots of nice side dishes
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, Diner’s Club
Hours: 10 a.m.-noon. Mondays-Thursdays, 10 a.m.-1 a.m. Fridays-Sundays (Call first, as hours do depend on business.).
Children: Fine, but be warned it can be very noisy
Parking: In lot
Reservations: Needed for large parties
Wheelchair access: Full
Smoking: No
Noise level: Very loud in the evenings
Patio: No
Takeout: Yes

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13 comments Add your comment

K

February 9th, 2012
8:54 am

Awesome! Thank you John, I love to try places like this! More international yummy for me please!

Other Dominican places I know of: Mi Pilon on BuHi, Versace on Pleasant Hill Rd in Lilburn, both really good. There’s also one called El Patio that’s also on BuHi that I haven’t tried. Any others?

M.Johnson

February 9th, 2012
10:01 am

Kar

February 9th, 2012
10:14 am

Aw John, I miss your regular excursions. You add enough back story for context but not enough that it’s border-line needy.

I’m surprised that you have trouble finding Dominican food around here or that they don’t label it as such. Some of the restaurants are almost stridently proud that they’re not the cookie cutter “ethnic hispanic” cuisine.

That sounds really good but in the past Dominican has just so heavy for me. What would you recommend for a dainty appetite?

A. Teesman

February 9th, 2012
11:15 am

So, you’re saying you married into a rich family.

John Kessler

February 9th, 2012
11:43 am

No, A. Teesman. What I said is that one year my mother in law went all out, as in for a very special occasion. It was a huge gift from her. But if I have experienced an international cuisine abroad, I like to explain the context in which I got to know it. I think many visitors to the Dominican Republic have experienced this same thing. Much of the food you will eat in restaurants, hotels and villas is geared to American and European tastes. But if you show an interest in the native fare, you eat much better.

A. Teesman

February 9th, 2012
12:39 pm

Understand and sorry for being snarky. I was thinking it was funny, but was not. Always love your posts and thanks for sharing.

ww

February 9th, 2012
3:35 pm

dominican restaurant norcross

Restaurant au Québec

February 9th, 2012
4:12 pm

Je recommande ce site web, si vous aimez ce genre de plats vous pourrez trouver plus d’information sur des restaurants dominicains et chiliens :)

[...] Cafe Restaurant Dominicano, Norcross [...]

Great Food

February 10th, 2012
6:40 am

I just ate here on Monday for lunch, a steady crowd, for some AMAZING food! Great pick!

george

February 10th, 2012
7:20 am

my sister and brother in law eat breakfast there most saturdays and love it. it is often cheaper and more interesting to go to the dominican republic than orlandos’s various tourist traps especially after the kids are grown.

Tom

February 10th, 2012
7:27 am

Coming from another island in the Caribbean where the food is much spicier than that of the Dominican Republic, I have never found Dominican cuisine to be an appealing substitute. However, the oxtails look interesting and possibly could be ramped up a notch by the addition of hot sauce. The menu looks quite comprehensive so I would try it but go armed with a bottle of Habanero pepper sauce.

jimbob

February 12th, 2012
5:01 pm

had lunch here today. We got the breakfast plate with the eggs and mangu (a steal at $7) and the shrimp creole ($11). The shrimp were not really spicy or creole like I expected, but it was still filling and tasty. I guess that it’s a non-spicy type cuisine, but we’d go back. It’s good cold weather comfort food. The steam-table had some nice looking meats (both boneless, our preference, as well as bone-in).