By Sophia Ricco
Punta Cana Dominican Grill makes assembling meals simple. With on the spot ordering and an array of meats and sides, the possibilities are endless.
Spreading the flavors of the Dominican Republic is the mission of owner Jon Romero. Growing up with parents and relatives from the Dominican Republic, Romero would feast on his country’s flavors daily. In search of local restaurants that could match his family’s cooking, Romero came up empty handed.
“I was tired of going to Freeport or Hempstead to get authentic Dominican food,” Romero said. “I’ve lived in Westbury my whole life, so I figured why not bring it closer by?”
Eager to fill the gap in his neighborhood, Romero opened Punta Cana in 2015. His dream is to open Punta Cana in popular areas of Long Island that lack Dominican cuisine, and one day to expand to the rest of the country. Punta Cana recently opened in Huntington village and will open in Rockville Centre this fall.
“In my college days, I would hang out in popular dining areas like Huntington that aren’t familiar with this food,” Romero said. “My goal is to introduce this cuisine to a lot of people.”
Learning to cook at the age of 13 from his grandmother, Romero brings his family’s recipes to the menu. He incorporates the flavors and ingredients he was taught, while adding his own “taste.” Punta Cana puts a crisp twist on chicken with boneless chicken chunks in a seasoned, crunchy shell. Sliced avocado keeps things fresh, while its soft, ripeness balances out the crispy texture.
“All of the recipes are created by me,” Romero said. “My chefs are trained to recreate that flavor profile using the same ingredients and process. We try to keep everything consistent.”
The signature cana bowl is a mix and match of beans and rice, protein, a side and sauce. Customers can pick and choose what goes in, as workers gather ingredients in an assembly line style. The cana bowls are loaded to the brim with Dominican delights. Start with yellow rice and peas, throw on some grilled chicken breast, served fajita style with onions and peppers, and finish off with fried yucca to take your tastebuds on a journey. The yucca is a major upgrade of french fries, with a crisp outer shell and dense, mushy inside, that is great with any of their in-house sauces.
“The main thing is the customization, because I know the bowl concept is popular,” Romero said. “We can make so many different combinations and that’s the point, so people don’t get tired of ordering the same dish, with the same side.”
Punta Cana offers an assortment of meats, from stew to grilled to fried. Romero feels variety is important, but prioritizes quality over quantity.
The steak with peppers and onions demonstrates Punta Cana’s mastery of meats. Thin strips of grilled steak take hints of flavor from the peppers.
“It’s what we grew up with,” Romero said. “It’s very important to Dominican cuisine, that you always have choices because the people in the country raise many animals. I don’t think it would be the same if we only had one chicken, beef or pork option. We need to show off all our proteins to really be authentic.”
A Dominican staple, empanadas pack a lot of flavor in a bite. Every month, Punta Cana debuts a new flavor but the chicken fajita and cheeseburger cannot be missed. The light, pastry-like shell is stuffed with savory meats and cheeses, making it a portable treat.
Bean salad and potato salad are refreshing sides, perfect for summer months with chilled, natural ingredients. The food is always fresh, as chefs cook throughout the day.
“We cook everything in small batches,” Romero said. “For me, we can’t use the word ‘authentic’ if we don’t do that. Otherwise, it’s nothing like what I was raised on or taught.”
Punta Cana Dominican Grill
376 New York Ave, Huntington
Atmosphere: Modern, fast-paced
Price range: Cana Bowl: $8-11, Salad Bowl: $11-13, Empanadas $2.50
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.; Saturday, noon - 11 p.m.; Sunday, noon - 8 p.m