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El Mofongo Restaurant: Dominican Pride Takes Root In Hempstead

HEMPSTEAD, NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – At El Mofongo restaurant in Hempstead, chef Hector Henriquez takes pride in the namesake dish.

A Latin staple with African roots, mofongo combines fried mashed plantains, pork belly, and raw garlic, pounded by hand in a large mortar.

"I make it fresh when the people order it. That's the secret to the mofongo. It comes out nice and moist," he said.

He and his wife Martha Caro, natives of the Dominican Republic, opened their restaurant on a busy stretch of Fulton Avenue to share flavors dear to them.

Steam tables display roasted pork with crispy skin and baked chicken that falls off the bone. Martha's tres leches cakes showcase baking skills inherited from her great-grandmother.

Before graduating from Long Island Culinary School, Hector held jobs ranging from truck driver to bouncer to minor league baseball pitcher. In addition to running the restaurant, Martha holds a second full-time job at the Department of Social Services.

Though they share wide-ranging expertise, they find special satisfaction in their work at El Mofongo. To them, as important as sharing food is sharing their history and culture.

Martha credits the restaurant's devoted fanbase to her husband's homestyle cooking and her warm Dominican hospitality. She wins over newcomers with abundant free samples. Some customers find it hard to choose.

When a meal is finished, seeing an empty plate brings Hector joy.

"Sometimes they go in the kitchen," Martha said. "They go, 'I want to meet that person! I want to see the hands!'"

Their passion keeps them strong through hard times.

"I remember when we first opened, the first couple of years, we used to close o m ur register with $50.00 a day," Martha said. "All the hard work is paying off. We can see it."

El Mofongo
684 Fulton Ave.
Hempstead, NY 11550
(516) 280-7782

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