7 Ways to Experience Santo Domingo’s Food Scene for $20 or Less

by  Lebawit Lily Girma | Jul 28, 2017
Mercado Modelo by Lily Girma
Mercado Modelo by Lily Girma

Like its neighborhoods and its mix of people, Santo Domingo’s gastronomy scene is diverse, and presents a wide variety of dining scenarios and a unique range of flavors. Whether you’re up for a hearty meal of rice and beans, simple sandwiches, or a New York-style brunch, good food is never far or expensive in the Dominican Republic's Santo Domingo.

Local Restaurants and Cafeterias

The most affordable plate of lunch you can have in Santo Domingo is the plato del día or daily special. Offered in small, local restaurants known as comedores, or in cafeterías, which have a buffet counter set up, plato del día consists of a heaping plate of rice and beans, served with a meat stew of choice, and a side salad, for not more than $4 USD.  

The most popular cafeteria in Santo Domingo, Villar Hermanos sits in the heart of Gazcue, a residential neighborhood located one street behind the row of brand hotels on the seafront boulevard. You can indulge in the best-looking and tastiest buffet in the city at under $3 USD for the day’s plate. Expect to find Dominican classics such as meat stews, mangú–a mash of boiled, buttered green plantains–fish, various types of rice, and chicharrón or fried pork rinds by the pound. Arrive early to avoid a long line. Behind the lunch area is a bakery for cheap grab-and-go savory or sweet pastries.   

A block east, tucked along a partly residential street is La Fábrica Contemporánea, where fresh Dominican and other Latin dishes are on par for taste with the area’s best restaurants. There’s a special menu each day of the week (except Sundays when they close), in addition to a la carte options with burritos, nachos, fajitas, baked chicken, grilled meats, and salads. Prices range from $4-$9. Vegans will also find their picks–the house vegetable mofongo alone is worth venturing here. Wash it down with the té de la casa, a house made fruit juice, ordered with or without rum.

In the Colonial City, where more tourists roam, Mimosa Restaurant–a street behind the popular pedestrian areas–serves tasty daily plates starting under $6 USD. There’s plenty of seating in the charming colonial courtyard, or you can take refuge in an air-conditioned room, with wifi. Vegans will find similar prices and comfort at Kalenda, a couple of blocks south.

Cafés and Sandwich Shops

A Caribbean city with plenty of European flair, Santo Domingo doesn’t want for casual and trendy sidewalk cafes, snack shops, and diners.  

La Cafetera Colonial, on the pedestrian Calle del Conde, is as historical as the neighborhood it occupies. Once a hangout of poets and scribes, the diner and café-style establishment serves simple but tasty sandwiches for less than $4. They’re also known for serving strong coffee, freshly squeezed fruit juices, and shakes. Sit on the patio and enjoy the action in the Colonial City. For a thick juicy burger, chicken wings or pizza slices, Petrus Cafeteria is a solid bet, and a favorite in the area for its well-priced combo meals.

Barra Payán, made famous in travel episodes, is still a hit for its toasted sandwiches at any time of the day–when others are closed, they’re open–and the meal is ideal when washed down with a Dominican batida or fruit milkshake.

Take it up a notch and hang out at the new Affogato Café, where you can indulge in salty crepes for less than $6, and cool off with a rich mocacchino frappe or a glass of sangria.

Brunch in the City

Santo Domingo’s modern city center is big onNew York-style brunching. Julieta Brasserie is a hit for its Eggs Benedict plate or omelets for less than $10. There are also a variety of healthy granola and fruit jars. For a local restaurant in an upscale yet unpretentious setting, Buen Provecho impresses with its brunch buffet or menu picks, which include vegetarian omelets.

Sample Chocolate and Mamajuana at ChocoMuseo

One of the best things about visiting the Colonial City is the abundance of museums, as well as places to sample sweet bites and drinks. Step inside the ChocoMuseo for a free and quick tour on Dominican cacao, one of the country’s top exports, and the bean-to-bar process. Here, you'll sample various kinds of chocolate for free, and move on to sample various flavors of mamajuana: the DR’s most potent beverage said to have aphrodisiac effects. Even if you take home a bottle or a box of chocolates, it won’t set you back more than $10.

Restaurant Week  

Santo Domingo Restaurant Week takes place the third week of June and showcases the city’s booming gastronomy scene. It’s the most fun time to sample the capital’s most impressive menus, from Dominican gourmet to international, and even haute vegetarian cuisine. Chef-designed three-course meals at over 30 establishments cost just $19 per person. Lunch, dine, and hop around the city–menus are shared on social media–and pick up your blue Restaurant Week “passport” booklet at the first stop. You’ll collect a stamp for each dining establishment; more than three qualify you to enter prizes.

The Mercado Modelo 

The Dominican Republic’s fertile soils means the country is blessed with growing many of its own fruits and vegetables, including staples such as rice. Head to the Mercado Modelo’s outdoor stands -- a good beginner’s stop, walking distance from the Colonial City -- for fresh and cheap tropical fruits, ready to be rinsed and enjoyed. If you’re up for cooking, you can easily stock up here and buy a heap of produce for less than $5.

Dine in Chinatown 

The most overlooked neighborhood in Santo Domingo is also one of only two Chinatown districts in the Caribbean region. It's worth the ten-minute walk north of the Colonial City, and up Avenida Duarte for affordable and tasty classic Chinese dishes, and dim sum on the weekends. Once you pass the signature Chinatown entrance gates, Restaurante KTV Canton serves up some of the tastiest plates in its small second-floor dining room and excellent prices to boot, all under $5 for a full meal per person. Another solid pick for mixed Chinese and Dominican dishes is Restaurante Popular, smack on Avenida Duarte.


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