Detroit is hundreds of miles away from any sizable Dominican-American population. Here, the Latino population is mostly Mexican, with some Central Americans and Puerto Ricans thrown into the mix. That means the small number of Dominicans in the area are far less likely to encounter cuisine like mom used to make it.
Step inside the three-month-old El Caribeño on West Vernor Highway though and be given a taste of the island (or at least Queens in New York). Owner Judi Hernandez is of Mexican heritage, but she learned to cook by shadowing her Dominican mother-in-law. And so far, as possibly the only Dominican restaurant in town, she’s managed to attract not just her extended family and friends but Dominicans from all over metro Detroit, including some she’s never met (the community is rather small after all and everyone knows everyone, she tells us).
For those familiar with Puerto Rican food, the concept at El Caribeño is similar. Heavy on the starchy plantains, daily specials of chicken, pork, and beef, a variety of street food that one may only appreciate if they’re from the D.R., plus fresh juices and shakes.