Others made their way from just the other side of the Bronx, having discovered the restaurant reposted on a Dominican food Instagram page. “From there, I just started following them, and I [saw] how close they were from us, from where we live,” stated one patron. “There are Dominican restaurants everywhere, but it’s hard to find a good one around here in this area.” His companion went as far to even take note of the restaurant’s hygienic measures compared to other establishments she’s visited, how just their constant use of gloves and keeping their hair covered provided her a level of comfort and appreciation for the food. “I think it’s really popular because of the way they serve it, because [the food] also comes in those little [decorative] pots.
The pots which she referred to have become a distinctive trademark for the restaurant. These colorful hand painted metal pots portray a snapshot of the Dominican Republic countryside; pastel colored houses posed next to vibrant trees with the name of the restaurant scripted across the top edge.
“The crazy part is that, the pots were kind of... I’m not gonna say it was a brilliant idea because I didn’t even think about it,” Enver began. “What happen was, we sent [for] some things to get picked up from DR. Everything here is from DR. One of the chefs here has a family member in DR and he was coming [to the states] and I said ‘Bring me this, bring me that.’ and he literally brought me six small pots and six medium pots. At first, you know, we were kind of like, ‘This is the perfect size’. You can put the right amount of rice, the right amount of beans, and the right amount of meat and it looks good on a plate. So that was a mistake that magically and brilliantly happened. The pots really put us on the map.”
Of course, it is the food that keeps bringing people back. During its peak on a weekend, roughly three to four parties can be witnessed waiting outside to be seated inside the restaurant. “I think the biggest compliment for us here,” said Enver, “is when people say ‘I want to bring my mom’ or ‘I want to bring my grandma’. Because they want to get it passed them, they want to make sure, like ‘Mom, this is official right? This is authentic, right?’”, he laughed.
Enver seemed to empathized with this feeling all to deeply. He witnessed one of his favorite spots, Malecon, which he frequented with his own mother, almost get pushed out due to gentrification. However, because of the loyalty and love for the restaurant and its owner, local neighborhood members rallied together and paid for the restaurant’s rent, “because they didn’t want to lose that spot,” he added.
It’s worth noting that all the while throughout the interview, the restaurant remained steadily busy, Enver working alongside his brother Jeudy, both manning the hotline, taking to-go orders, delivering food to tables, pausing every now and again to answer my questions and share with me their story as a family owned restaurant. A number of close friends and cousins also worked in the kitchen and prepped food. And lastly, their own mother provided her time and energy to being both a server and a cashier for the restaurant.
It goes without saying that the coziness, the intimate environment, and the delicious food, are a reflection of the family who put in their time and hard work. It’s a small space, but its homestyle Dominican cuisine can make anyone feel like at home next to a complete stranger. Though only four months into it, Ajo y Orégano has the air of having been a neighborhood hot spot for years. The restaurant will see it’s first summer season this year, and plans to expand and meet its ever growing fanbase will allow for many more Bronxites to come and experience them. In the meantime, I recommend everyone take a pause from their respective binges and checkout Ajo y Orégano. I promise you won’t be disappointed, and I guarantee you’ll find yourself back there again and again as I am every weekend.
You can visit Ajo y Orégano at 1556A White Plains Road, Bronx NY, 10462