At Punta Cana Caribbean Restaurant, the food is made with fresh ingredients and follows recipes passed down for generations, co-owner Jarlis Lugo said.

“If you love doing something, you do it with your heart,” Lugo said. “I used to work 16 hours a day for the first three, four years, and I was working with love ... and that’s why the food and everything comes [out] so nice and good. Because we do it with love.”

Lugo founded Punta Cana with his brother in 2011 after moving to Houston from New Jersey. Since 2020, Lugo has been running the restaurant with co-owner and Manager Julissa Gonzalez, who is also his girlfriend. The Willowbrook-area restaurant serves traditional Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican dishes, which Lugo said showcase the owners’ culture; some of the restaurant’s recipes were originally cooked by Lugo’s grandmother in the 1950s.

Menu staples include mondongo—a seasoned tripe stew—and mofongo—a dish made with green plantains, pork cracklings and garlic butter. Punta Cana also serves drinks, such as mojitos, margaritas and Presidente, a Dominican beer.

Gonzalez said she and Lugo have invested many hours of hard work into their restaurant over the years, often waiting tables, bartending or cooking if they were short on staff.

Punta Cana was one of the first Dominican restaurants in Houston, Gonzalez said, so she and other members of the local Dominican community found the restaurant inspirational. The couple hopes to open a second location in the future.Lugo and Gonzalez said they take pride in the fact that Punta Cana’s menu is cooked by a Dominican chef, Enerio Castro, who is 76 years old. Other staff, including host Esteban Marte, who has been working at the restaurant for more than a decade, also help cultivate an inviting environment for customers, Gonzalez said.

“I think our customer service ... plays a huge part of who we are,” Gonzalez said. “As Dominicans, we’re very inviting and homey. We treat you as family. A lot of our customers are regulars.”

Punta Cana Caribbean Restaurant

17776 Hwy. 249, Ste. 21, Houston


Hours: Tue.-Thu. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., closed Mon.