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There Are No Dominican Restaurants in Los Angeles (!) ~ But ‘Dominicans in Cali’ Still Savor Community

[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]hen Luis Torres moved to Los Angeles from New Jersey six years ago, the one thing he missed most was the Dominican food he grew up eating. “There’s no place in L.A. right now to get official authentic Dominican food,” he told L.A. Taco.

Indeed, there are currently no known Dominican-focused restaurants in Los Angeles County. L.A. Taco checked. The only Dominican restaurant in Southern California is in San Diego — Tropical Savor in downtown SD, which is featured in this Pero Like video.

Granted, Dominicans make up less than half-a-percent of the Latino population in L.A. County. But Torres had to find his food and community somehow, so he turned to social media for help.

Luis Torres (right) was looking for community. (All photos via Dominicans in Cali.)
Luis Torres (right) was looking for community. (All photos via Dominicans in Cali.)

“Let me see if I can find my people out here because I miss my food,” he recalled saying, as he scrolled through Instagram. On a nostalgic whim, Torres looked up the hashtag #DominicansinCali and found it used once before years ago in Los Angeles — and that's when the idea clicked.

Torres created the Instagram account Dominicans in Cali in 2014, which has grown to more than 3,000 followers, to connect with other Dominicans living on the West Coast, online and offline.

LISTEN: L.A. Taco Podcast: Learning About ‘Dominicans in Cali’ ~ Trying Out the Rams Sprinkles Donuts at Randy’s in Inglewood

The events also promote network-building.

There are approximately 1.8 million Dominicans living in the U.S. About 79 percent live in the Northeast and  47 percent of that live in New York, according to a Pew Research Center analysis based on the last census. Only two percent live in the Western United States.

Finding Dominicans became easier when Torres curated his first event, he said. It began with 20 people showing up, then 50 people, and soon he had to create a development team to help build group events including beach trips, hikes, social mixers, birthday parties, and a potluck. People from all over Los Angeles and as far as San Diego show up to get a taste of their culture.

But it's not just about the coro, Torres added. “We miss that stuff, but we're not just a party. We're teaching our own people about our culture through our events.”

The group organizes hikes in L.A.
The group organizes hikes in L.A.

Franceli Chapman-Varela — a writer, actress and member of the group’s development team — curates an annual hike to honor Dominican Independence Day (February 27) up to the Hollywood sign. Each year, Varela shares a prayer and a historical fact about the Dominican Republic before they begin.

“Many of us come from this beautiful island and don’t always know a lot about it,” Varela said. “Since the annual hike is centered around Dominican Independence Day, it’s just valuable to talk about our history.”

This month, to honor the holiday, the Clippers are celebrating their first ever Dominican Heritage Night on February 13 in collaboration with the Dominican American National Foundation. The DANF hosted their first West Coast event last year at Dodger Stadium, where they honored Dominicans in Cali, TV personality Julissa Bermudez, and Dodgers great Manny Mota with the DANF Privilege Award.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]orres also uses the Instagram account to share volunteering opportunities, other Dominicans' profiles, and curated videos centered around the Dominican American experience.

His first potluck was with about 12 people and unsuccessful, he said. “But then fast-forward when I saw the amount of people that come to these events, I said, 'There's no way [with] all these Dominicans there's no good cooks. I dare to do it again.”

Not having a local Dominican restaurant in L.A. never stopped Torres from eating mangu and sancocho. “You can make Dominican food anywhere. Platanos are not Dominican. It's what you make with it that makes it Dominican,” he said.

Mangu is a traditionally breakfast meal with mashed plantains, fried eggs, fried cheese, fried salami and red onions. Sancocho is a beef stew usually with plantains and yucca.

Torres believes the closest proximity to Dominican food in L.A. is at Mofongo, a Puerto Rican restaurant in North Hollywood. Torres described it as “a Puerto Rican restaurant who loves their Dominican brothers and make sure they include us in their business” by repping a DR flag and souvenirs.

A woman recently messaged Torres through Dominicans in Cali. She told him she was pregnant and craving sancocho — but couldn't find it anywhere. She asked if he knew where she could find it. He instantly thought of it as family reaching out. “I feel like my sister is pregnant right now and I have to go get sancocho for her,” Torres said.

He recommended Mofongo and couple of Cuban restaurants that make sancocho similar to the Dominican style, but he also shared her message on the Instagram account. Within minutes, a woman offered to cook sancocho for her.

Dominican in Cali's events are "100 percent true to what people know" about Dominican culture, Torres said. Everyone finds their vibe and their vibe is a mix of networking and partying, but others also attend. It's just “a bunch of Caribbeans who miss their culture,” he said.

“It's like you're in the hood in New York or the patio in the Dominican Republic, or L.A. Which is the one we are creating. [It's] true Dominican, but it's also new L.A. for us.”

All photos by Estiv/Courtesy of Dominicans in Cali.

RELATED: This L.A. Swap Meet Makes Mexican-Salvadoran Pupusas as Big as Your Head

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