As a cuisine, Caribbean food covers a wide range of styles, inspired by the African, American Indian, East Indian, European and Chinese cultures that all brought their influences to the area.
The dishes at Punta Cana Caribbean Restaurant in Cy-Fair are largely Dominican and Puerto Rican, and owner Jarlis Lugo maintains they cannot be found anywhere else in Houston.
"There are some Caribbean restaurants that do Jamaican or Cuban food, but no one does what we do here," he said. "People are tired of eating the same types of food all the time when they go out. I opened my restaurant to give people something new."
Jarlis' concept appears to be working. The restaurant has been open for four years, and he has customers coming to him from as far as New Orleans and San Antonio. Regulars come from all over Houston, including Sugar Land and Humble, he said.
The menu includes sections for house specials, seafood, lunch specials and mofongos—a distinctive Puerto Rican plantain dish that can be made with various ingredients. Everything on the menu is made from recipes developed by Jarlis and his family, including some authentic recipes passed all the way down from the owner's grandmother-in-law.
Lugo and his wife have led the way in the kitchen since the restaurant opened in 2011. With the restaurant open six days a week, Jarlis said he typically works 80–90 hour weeks.
"I'm only the second-in-command behind my wife in the kitchen, but it's a lot of work for both of us," he said.
The walls at Punta Cana are decorated with photos, paintings and drawings depicting various scenes of the city in the Dominican Republic for which the restaurant is named. Woodcarvings of bongo drums and tropical fruits hang near the window into the kitchen.
Diners at Punta Cana can order a variety of alcoholic beverages, including whiskey, vodka, tequila, beer, wine and spirits. Rum is also available, including Caribbean favorites Barcelo and Brugal, two brands from the Dominican Republic.
"Drinks in the Caribbean are traditionally made strong and with pure ingredients," Jarlis said. "We make our drinks [at Punta Cana] the same way."
Jarlis' long-range plans include Punta Cana franchises around the Greater Houston area and across the state. However, he recognizes this will take time and plans to take things as they come. No plans are in place to open a second location at this point.
"I'm still organizing to make sure I do the right thing and can expand successfully," he said. "The food is most important. It will always come from my family, from the bottom of our hearts."
Bistec encebollado—Beef steak prepared with adobo garlic, rubbed and topped with caramelized onion ($13)
Chivo guisado—Adobo, bitter orange and garlic marinated goat meat cooked in a slightly spicy tomato sauce ($15)
Mofongo de camarones al ajillo o guisado—A Puerto Rican dish made out of fried green plantains mashed with an olive oil butter sauce and pork cracklings, topped with choice of garlic or stew shrimp ($14)
Punta Cana offers discounts on select dishes Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Specials include chicharron de pollo, Dominican-style fried chicken ($7), and pastelon platano maduro, which consists of mashed yellow plantain in a pie and stuffed with ground beef ($7). All specials come with rice and beans.