Watching Yareny Almonte, the proud owner of Albuquerque’s newest food truck, pry open a still-green plantain with practiced ease, I had no doubt that the freshly fried tostones she was preparing would-be killer. A few days earlier I had spotted her brand-spanking-new, fire-engine-red food truck while biking by the Nob Hill location of Tractor Brewing. Smells emanating from within had me flashing on my last visit to Dyckman Street in NYC over a decade ago. The sign proclaimed that they were serving Dominican food. The word “Dominican” was doubly nice to see because in New York most Dominican spots advertise “Spanish” food, which would surely confuse people here in Albuquerque. I stopped for a moment to chat up Yareny and her partner Louis, who came to Albuquerque from the Bronx and Queens, respectively. Albuquerque had indeed scored a legit D.R. eatery.
A few days later I tracked down ‘Reny and Louis at Hyder Park by looking up DominicanFlavorsABQ on Instagram. While it was a downright pleasant afternoon for mid-March, the crowds that tend to swell as the weather warms were not in evidence for the weekly Tasty Tuesday food truck event. In fact Dominican Flavors was the only eatery in sight. Enjoying the sounds of dembow Dominicano bumping (at a subdued volume) from within, I did a careful study of their menu before stepping up to the truck’s window. I went for the tostones ($4) and small orders of both the chicken and pork combo plates ($6 for the small and $8 for large). Sadly, they were out of the beef empanadas, but I ordered one each of the other three empanadas on offer: chicken, mozzarella and a dessert empanada with guava and cream cheese ($3 each).
The food came out piping hot in around 10 minutes, and I dug right in. The tostones, still just shy of a mouth-scalding temp, were exactly what I had envisioned: a satisfying crunch around the edges, not too greasy and a chewiness within that sets them apart from the plantain chips I often settle for in lieu of the real deal. They come standard with ketchup and spicy mayo. The chicken plate featured a good portion of shredded chicken breast that had simmered in a mild tomato-based sauce atop a hearty scoop of Spanish rice and pinto beans. Two big slices of maduros, the sweet sibling of the aforementioned tostones, made from over-ripened sweet plantains, glistened on the side.
The pernil, or roasted pork, version of the same combo plate was a highlight for me. The meat was lightly seasoned, aside from a good saltiness, allowing the rich, full flavor of the slow-cooked meat to shine. It had the layered-yet-measured taste of a dish cooked by someone who had perfected their approach over generations. The empanadas, golden and blistered all over and fresh out the fryer, were each a treat in their own right. It honestly reminded me of a less dense mozzarella stick, producing one-foot-long strands of cheese as I bit into its near-molten core and pulled away. The guava and cream cheese were in just the right proportions to highlight the guava’s tropical sweetness. These pastries are addictive, but I must say that, as they are a bit shrimpy in size, it may make more sense to sell them in orders of three for six or seven dollars.
While Dominican cuisine tends to skip the chile peppers that so many of their Caribbean neighbors can not go without, I still wanted that kick. Well, good news N.M., they are currently experimenting with both a wasakaka sauce (a Dominican and Venezuelan relative of Argentinian chimichurri) for the empanadas and a tomatillo-based salsa verde for the plates. I think this move will elevate their pork up into the stratosphere.
After feasting I waited for the line to die down and asked ‘Reny and Louis if they had a sec to fill me in on their backstory. Louis—who, I should note, is not Dominican—had landed a residency at UNMH’s ER, working toward a physician’s assistant degree. They moved here, and Reny’s mother, now retired, came along as well. Her name is Ventura—or Dorris—Corporan, and her culinary skills were the initial spark behind Dominican Flavors ABQ. Realizing that Dorris’ cooking was providing the comforting tastes of home in this new land, Louis told her that she had a gift that needed to be shared. Louis’ heartfelt comment led Reny down the path to opening Dominican Flavors ABQ. Reny learned many “old school” recipes from her mom, but her mom is still in charge of the roast pork and other dishes that need the touch of a well-practiced hand.
Maybe it was talking to fellow NYers, or just my socially-starved pandemic mind, but I started chatting them up about all manner of things. Our favorite Caribbean dishes. Merengue and bachata jams, both classic and electronic. Baseball. Being both Dominican and from the Bronx, Reny is naturally a diehard Yankees fan. It should come as no surprise to any baseball aficionados that several players on the team hail from the D.R. as well. But with orders beginning to line up behind me, I said my goodbyes, assuring them that I’d be back for those tostones on the regular.
Overstuffed and with plenty of leftovers, I took stock. The food is heavy, but it didn’t leave me sluggish; I honestly felt like I was ready for a few hours of manual labor under a tropical sun. Reny and Louis are just getting started in the food-truck game, but I can see them selling out at Hyder park to families, at Tractor Brewing to buzzed patrons and at any Albuquerque construction site to hungry workers. I’m dreaming of Helado de Batata (sweet-potato ice cream) for the summer. And for any time, of mofongo Dominicano, a heaping pile of fried then mashed platanos with chicharron and a fierce garlic sauce (instead of the Boricua version’s tomato broth). This sincere new eatery-on-wheels deserves a loyal customer base. I believe it is destined for great things.
Dominican Flavors ABQ
Category: Food Truck
Cuisine: Dominican, Caribbean