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Caribe Brings Authentic Dominican Cuisine to West Hartford

Milagros Pineda (center, holding scissors) cuts the ribbon for the opening of Caribe Restaurant in West Hartford on Jan. 25, surrounded by her extended family. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Caribe Restaurant celebrated its grand opening in West Hartford on Jan. 25.

Pescado Boca Chica at Caribe Restaurant in West Hartford features whole red snapper in a coconut red sauce served with rice. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

Dominican cuisine is the latest entrée into the West Hartford dining scene, with a new restaurant opening in a prominent spot at the gateway to the town.

Caribe (pronounced ka-ree-bay) opened Monday in the former Prospect Cafe location at 345. Prospect Ave., on the northwest corner of the intersection with Park Road.

Owner Milagros Pineda – who also owns a much more casual take-out oriented restaurant named Caribe in Hartford’s Frog Hollow neighborhood – said she was “very excited and proud” to open the new restaurant. She’s developed many of the recipes herself over the years, based on the cuisine she grew up with in her native Dominican Republic, and began serving to the public as lunches she created and sold out of her Hartford apartment more than 20 years ago.

Creation of the new restaurant has been a labor of love, and one involving Pineda’s large extended family. Most of the family members, who live in the Hartford area, attended the grand opening, and several family members will be involved in the restaurant full time.

Berlin Pineda, Milagros Pineda’s daughter, has helped guide the project every step of the way, and will help run the restaurant. Janibel Trout, the daughter of one of Milagros Pineda’s other children (Milagros has six daughters and one son, 14 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren), is Caribe’s manager.

Caribe owner Milagros Pineda (center), with her daughter Berlin Pineda (right) and granddaughter Janibel Trout celebrate the grand opening of Caribe on Jan. 25, 2021, at 345 Prospect Ave., West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The menu (see PDF below) is more extensive and upscale than the Hartford location, and Trout said she expects the Bistec Encebollado (top sirloin steak with onion) to be a favorite, along with several versions of mofongo (a base of fried green plantains mixed with garlic and crispy pork rind, broth, and olive oil).

“Here we have a grill,” Trout said, and many of the dishes feature grilled steak or salmon. Paella is also on the menu at Caribe.

There are a variety of appetizers – including homemade empanadas stuffed with beef, chicken, or cheese, and fried calamari – as well as salads, sandwiches, and pastas.

Homemade beef empanadas will likely be a popular appetizer at Caribe Restaurant in West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A full bar features mojitos, margaritas, and other tropical specialties, and wine is available by the glass or bottle. Cans and bottles of beer, hard cider, and hard seltzer are offered, and for those who prefer non-alcoholic beverages, fresh juices as well as Morir Soñado (a traditional Dominican drink made with orange juice and milk) are also on the menu.

Caribe has a full bar, featuring tropical drinks like mojitos. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

There’s also a kids’ menu, and while the same menu is available at lunch and dinnertime during the week, brunch will be served from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, featuring a variety of Dominican and American specialties.

El Bistec: Top round sirloin sautéed with onions, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo, served with fries. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Caribe has transformed the former Prospect Cafe with a new coat of dark paint on the walls, and a polished wood counter constructed by another relative prominently featured in the center of the space.

The industrial look of exposed brick and partially open ceiling has been updated with Dominican touches and a black and gold color scheme, including a gold map of the Dominican Republic (a gift from Milagros Pineda’s son) and a wall of black-and-white prints of Dominican landmarks framed in gold.

A wall of framed photos of Dominican Republic landmarks highlight the interior of Caribe Restaurant, 345 Prospect Ave., West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The Caribe logo includes a palm tree, and Latin music in the background adds another element of Dominican culture.

Caribe Restaurant currently seats 57, and once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted there will be seating for 115. The expansive patio will add seating once the weather warms up.

Interior of Caribe Restaurant, 345 Prospect Ave., West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Extensive interior updates had been made when Paul and Jeff Emery reopened the iconic West Hartford restaurant in 2015, after the original version by the same name had been closed for two years. Prospect Cafe was shuttered for good in September 2020, but it wasn’t long before plans were underway for Caribe to open.

“It was an opportunity that we saw,” Trout said. She said they had been thinking of opening another restaurant when her uncle saw the space for rent and decided it was a great location.

Caribe is hoping to become a staple of the neighborhood, and like many other Park Road businesses, are eagerly anticipating the One Park Road development, which will bring nearly 300 apartments to the property right across the street.

To make a reservation or order food for take-out call Caribe Restaurant at 860-904-9986.

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Interior of Caribe Restaurant, 345 Prospect Ave., West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The gold map of the Dominican Republic was a gift from one of owner Milagros Pineda’s sons. Interior of Caribe Restaurant, 345 Prospect Ave., West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Berlin Pineda at the hostess desk at Caribe Restaurant, 345 Prospect Ave., West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Interior of Caribe Restaurant, 345 Prospect Ave., West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Interior of Caribe Restaurant, 345 Prospect Ave., West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

El Pollo: Grilled chicken breast with mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo, served with fries. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A relative crafted the new counter in the center of Caribe Restaurant. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Fried calamari with house-made spicy sauce at Caribe Restaurant in West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Cheese empanadas with house-made spicy sauce. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The kids menu at Caribe includes chicken tenders and fries. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Interior of Caribe Restaurant, 345 Prospect Ave., West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Caribe’s signature logo on the outside of the building at 345 Prospect Ave., at the intersection of Park Road and the gateway to West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Exterior of Caribe Restaurant, now open at 345 Prospect Ave., West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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