Mi Barrio’s Dominican cuisine can be found year-round at Fargo’s Big Top Bingo – InForum

FARGO – Yessica Hernandez is living her dream, of all places, in a bingo hall thousands of miles from home.

Hernandez is the founder of Mi Barrio Dominican Cuisine, which debuted in Big Top Bingo’s kitchen on Saturday, November 19. The restaurant operation has evolved from a pop-up restaurant to a food trailer to what is currently a permanent brick-and-mortar presence.

Since launching in 2020, it’s all resulted in a rapid rise for Hernandez’s business, but she has no plans to halt her growth trajectory anytime soon.

A dream emerges from a catastrophe

Born in the Dominican Republic, Hernandez was living in New Jersey in 2011, where she was contemplating her family’s next move. In August of the same year, Hurricane Irene hit the state. As a result, the Hernandez residence was “completely submerged,” forcing the family to live in a gym for two months.

There, a South Dakotan working for the Red Cross introduced himself. When he heard about the family’s plans to move, he suggested they consider his home state. That drew a not-so-unexpected response from Hernandez. Where?

Hernandez wanted a quiet place where she could live alone with her family. She got just that when her family settled in the northern counterpart of South Dakota. She lived in Williston for several years before moving to Fargo, where she has lived for more than two years.

Hernandez has an extensive culinary background, having attended culinary school and working in restaurants in New Jersey and Williston. All in all she had 12 years of professional kitchen experience but wanted to start her own business.

“It was right around that time that I kind of wanted to work for myself and make my own dream come true,” she told the forum. “My dream was to own a restaurant but with a Dominican background.”

It started slowly, beginning with a pop-up presence in front of Hornbachers on University Drive South. However, space was limited and the harsh winter weather restricted them to operations during the summer months.

The following year, Mi Barrio set up a food trailer that alternately appeared outdoors at Big Top Bingo and the Great Northern Bicycle Company on Broadway in downtown Fargo.

Even with the trailer, the weather was still an issue. After working outside of Big Top Bingo, Hernandez knew the store’s kitchen was unmanned. She approached management to lease the premises and give her businesses a permanent, year-round space that she expects will allow Mi Barrio to reach its full potential.

Plantains, pork belly and a drink to die for

Dominican cuisine offers a distinct flavor and presentation compared to other Latin American dishes, Hernandez explained. So while the language may be the same in all countries, Mi Barrio’s menu offers “completely different” tastes than most are used to.

Hernandez leads the way and points to the barrio bowl, which consists of white rice, red beans, a side salad, and your choice of chicken, fish, or chicharrones (pork belly).

For the uninitiated and picky eaters, Hernandez recommends tres golpes. The dish includes fried and mashed plantains, fried eggs and Dominican salami, topped with pickled onions. “These are things that almost everyone can recognize,” Hernandez said.

Yessica Hernandez, left, and her mother Altagracia Javier prepare food in the kitchen at Mi Barrio Dominican Cuisine, their restaurant at Big Top Bingo in south Fargo.

Chris Flynn / The Forum

For those looking to immerse themselves in Dominican culture, Hernandez advises ordering the mofongo. Like the tres golpes, mofongo starts with a deep fried and mashed plantain, adding garlic lime and salt. The plantain is then stuffed with pork belly and topped with mozzarella, shrimp, or more pork belly.

No matter what customers order from Mi Barrio’s extensive menu, Hernandez suggested ordering a glass of Morir Soñando, which translates to “die dreaming.” It’s a frozen concoction of orange juice and condensed milk, which Hernandez says many customers have compared to an Orange Julius.

The long list of Dominican favorites, including homemade empanadas, flan and rice pudding, dates back to Hernandez’s youth. “All the dishes are dishes from my childhood, dishes that I know,” summarizes Hernandez. “It brings just a little bit of what made me happy when I was little to your table.”

For visitors of bingo players, Mi Barrio also offers an American menu with dishes such as BLT sandwiches, cheeseburgers, chicken coops and egg salad. However, anyone who wants authentic Dominican cuisine is welcome. “If you want to taste rice and beans, you can come to me,” she said.

“The Land of Dreams”

Life in North Dakota just “doesn’t compare” to life in the Dominican Republic. “It’s the Caribbean,” Hernandez said. “Everything about it is great, but there are a lot of limitations,” she explained, particularly around education, safety, and finding leisure activities that haven’t been overrun by tourists.

Hernandez said she and her family could have brought some of the islands to North Dakota, but her thoughts always return home around Christmas, when she particularly misses her remaining family there.

Despite this, Hernandez is content with her life in the United States. “The United States has its qualities. The United States is the land of dreams,” she commented. “You have to work, but you can make your dreams come true. Education is much easier to get.”

Mi Barrio Dominican Cuisine, a new restaurant at Big Top Bingo in south Fargo. Owner-operator Yessica Hernandez said it’s the first Dominican kitchen in the area.

Chris Flynn / The Forum

Hernandez also has no plans to stop dreaming anytime soon. Her big goal is to move into her own restaurant. She imagines a buffet-style restaurant, colorfully decorated with all the accessories. “We don’t just have white rice,” she said. “We have rice with beans, rice with pigeon peas, rice with corn, yellow rice. I want to offer you all these opportunities.”

However, she is content with her current setup, ready to serve up the flavors of her childhood in a year-round home. “I’ll serve you a nice plate of food and I’m 100% sure you’ll be satisfied,” she said.

WHAT: Mi Barrio Dominican cuisine
HOURS: 11am to 2pm, 5pm to 9pm Tuesday to Friday; 11am to 11pm Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday; closed on Mondays
WHERE: Inside Big Top Bingo (16+), 901 25th St. S
FOOD OPTIONS: Limited dining seating, call-in takeout ordering, delivery via GrubHub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats
CALL: 701-660-0785


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