by Eric Ginsburg
The menu at Mangu Bar & Grill may look extensive, but there are two things that should be kept in mind when ordering at this relatively new Dominican restaurant in Winston-Salem: Order family-style and ask about the best dish available.
That’s because the menu acts as more of a compilation of what the kitchen is capable of rather than a guide to what’s on deck. The sancocho, a fantastic soup popular in the Dominican Republic because it’s affordable to make at home, is made on Sundays along with the other soups noted on the menu such as the mondongo beef tripe option.
And arriving for dinner, rather than lunch, on a weeknight could mean Mangu is fresh out of other items. On a recent Tuesday, the signature mangu — a side of boiled and then mashed green plantains, sometimes served with other ingredients — had been depleted before 8 p.m.
So rather than pre-reading the menu online and arriving heart-set on something particular, round up a group that’s down for an adventure and see where the night leads. The server may recommend the shrimp mofongo — a dish with origins in Puerto Rico but that is served in the Dominican Republic as well, complemented well by a moat of red sauce and shrimp. Or it could be the bistec encebollado, a thin yet sizeable cut of beef topped with onions and melted butter.
Both are worthwhile choices, as is the satisfying Dominican sausage side, but the key is to order a handful of items to share, especially for those looking to explore Dominican cuisine. Don’t miss the beans, which are appropriately salty and come with pieces of plantain in them, a good side with rice for any meal. To some, the beans are enough reason to visit alone.
Less adventurous eaters may enjoy the friquitaqui sandwich with salami and egg. For party poopers (see also: Difficult husbands who are stuck in their ways) there are hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken fingers.
The storefront Mangu inhabits on Old Salisbury Road in the southern part of the city used to house Miami Café, a Cuban restaurant that is rumored to be reopening on Broad Street near downtown. Besides the generalized similarity of serving Caribbean fare, Mangu carries on the tradition with a Cuban sandwich as well. But despite the few food items paying homage to other nations, the Dominican food is more than enough of a draw on its own.
Mangu came recommended by a Dominican friend of a friend who vouched for its authenticity, and while there is little nearby for comparison’s sake, the restaurant’s island food is a memorable delight.
Still, almost all of the patrons on a recent Tuesday during dinnertime came to drink, taking advantage of a tiny bartop in the right corner with just four barstools. They spread out at adjacent tables, some watching the Red Sox/Yankees game overhead and others the Mets/Marlins matchup, but most were engrossed in conversation, hardly looking up.
It makes sense, considering Mangu brags a liquor license, carries the Dominican beer Presidente and seems to be the only watering hole in the vicinity.
But the food takes center stage during lunch and on weekend nights, despite the added competition of karaoke and occasional live music played on the guira and tambora, two instruments hailing from the Dominican percussion section.
The restaurant brings in all comers, the owner says, a claim that holds true for the staff as well, which includes a Dominican chef and servers from Venezuela and Puerto Rico. It feels safe to guess that there are only two distinct groups of people who haven’t shown up in the three months since Mangu opened: those who don’t know about the tucked-away spot, and those with an aversion to boisterous reggaeton music playing on the stereo.
Visit Mangu Bar & Grill at 2225 Old Salisbury Road (W-S) or at mangubarandgrill.com