I may have invited a few “Um, actually” emails telling me there’s one or two restaurants in North Texas that offer some Dominican dishes. In which case, I’ll eat a slice of humble pie (or, rather, Dominican plantain pie). But I stand by my headline: Picadera, a pop-up slinging Dominican cuisine all over DFW, is serving food you can’t find elsewhere in this region.
Just ask Michael Tavarez, the man behind Picadera. He moved from New York to Dallas four years ago but says he has “yet to find a single Dominican restaurant in the DFW area.” Like so many origin stories in which you don’t see your food culture represented where you live, Picadera brings new-to-us Dominican flavors to Dallas.
But first, he consulted the expert: mom. “I kept asking my mom for recipes and how to cooks things that she usually made for us back home and everything that I missed,” says Tavarez. For the first few years, he only cooked for his family and close friends. “From there, I was like, You know what? I need to do something about this because nobody else is.”
This isn’t merely Caribbean cuisine, which is as vast and as diverse as all of the nations that touch the Caribbean Sea. Tavarez is cooking the Dominican street food that he loves. He would be the first to tell you he’s no professional chef; Tavarez first came to Dallas to run his residential solar panel energy company. But the pandemic froze countless businesses, including his, which gave Tavarez the time to launch Picadera.
Picardera first popped up in April at Celestial Beer Works in Oak Lawn. Tavarez thought with COVID and smaller crowds, he could slowly build Picadera. He assumed with the lack of Dominican food in the area, he’d also have to hold diners’ hands through some of the perhaps new-to-them foods. No such luck on either counts. A line stretched down the block and Tavarez’s two-man team were swamped. It turns out that the Dominican community, well, turns out.
“I thought I was the only one out here,” says Tavarez about the lack of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, a neighboring island nation that shares a lot of cuisine similarities. “I can’t believe just how many Dominicans are actually out here and they appreciate what we’re doing … They are our loyal fan base.” Picadera pop-ups often sell out of Tavarez’s Dominican eats.
The term picadera loosely means snacks. Tavarez describes it as finger foods or anything you can eat with your hands without utensils. You might find deep-fried empanadas, notable for their thinner, crispier dough. They’re double-filled with ground beef picadillo or stewed, shredded chicken. Seasoned black beans, sweet plantains, and fried tropical cheese have filled the fried pastries occasionally, too.
Picadera’s star dish is almost certainly the Chimi Burger. “That burger is actually famous on the streets of the Dominican Republic and also in New York City,” says Tavarez. “There’s not one Dominican who doesn’t know what a chimi burger is.” For those who aren’t in the know, this isn’t your classic, simplicity-at-its-finest, low-fuss burger.
The chimi burger’s six-ounce patty is marinated and seasoned with onions, lots of peppers, imported Dominican oregano (I love the commitment!), garlic powder, then topped with pickled red onion, slaw, tomatoes, and a mayo-ketchup secret sauce. Then there’s the matter of the bread.
After going through about 10 different Mexican bakeries, he finally landed on a bolillo roll that closely approximates the more traditional pan de agua. This “water bread” resembles a French baguette if it were much wider. It is popular in both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, especially for sandwiches. So the chimi burger on a bolillo roll with a texture that met Tavarez’s gluten standards hugs all of those ingredients together for a complex, two-hander.
“Whether it’s right or wrong,” says Tavarez, “that’s how a Dominican chimi burger is made.”
Tavarez does not mess around. He brings so much unabashed passion for the Dominican food he’s cooking for Picadera. Even his commitment to imported ingredients helps him stay true to those street food flavors. Lucky, then, that his family owns a chain of supermarkets in New York. They import the goods, then Tavarez can buy and ship those Dominican-sourced goods to Dallas.
The work has been worth it for Tavarez. “[Picadera] was something that I knew Dallas definitely needed and something that I wanted to do for our community,” he says. “I mean, as much as we love tacos and barbecue, we definitely need diversity out here.” Amen to that.
You can follow Picadera on Instagram to keep tabs on its many pop-ups (during the week, they run a Dominican-Mexican fusion menu, which now includes quesabirria de res empanadas, offering its own twist on the trendy item). You can also sign up on Picadera’s email list for dates and an outline of the upcoming menu.