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This week on Let’s Go, South Florida host Arlene Borenstein visits Yarumba Dominican Republic restaurant in Miami Gardens.
Watch Let’s Go, South Florida: As our Hispanic Heritage Month coverage continues, we are spotlighting executive chef Danny Peñalo, recognized for bringing Dominican food to the forefront of South Florida’s culinary scene. His work at his family’s restaurant, Yarumba in Miami Gardens, has distinguished the eatery as a destination for visitors from all over the country for a night of island food with international influences, late-night dancing and special events.
Chef Danny Peñalo’s big-flavored, Caribbean food is rooted in the Dominican Republic. But his elevated style is the result of culinary training and years spent working the island’s international hotels and resorts.
It was his father, who was living in the United States, who noticed his son’s gifts.
“He went over there, tried some of the food and he really liked it. He said, ‘We don’t have this stuff in Miami,’ ” said Peñalo, who was born in Santo Domingo.
So Peñalo sent over the best thing he could — himself. In 2013, the chef moved to South Florida and opened Yarumba in Miami Gardens, with help from his family.
“We [Dominicans] love serving. That’s how we survive … and we like it,” said Peñalo. One brother works with him in the back of the house while his other brother works out front.
“Yarumba is the before and after of Dominican cuisine,” said Peñalo, who graduated magna cum laude from a private university in the D.R. specializing in hotel administration with a concentration in food and beverage.
He used his education and island intuition to help map out a plan for Yarumba, a restaurant distinguished by live music, Caribbean-style cocktails and traditional Dominican food elevated by international influences.
“We went with a 300-seat restaurant so that we could acquire the liquor license and also bring in bands and do something to create a lounge/restaurant,” said the executive chef, who also trained while in college at Epcot Center with Walt Disney World Orlando’s Culinary Passport to Excellence program.
“At the beginning, Yarumba was immediately known for its lounge and artist events,” he said.
And word got around. “Dominicans started to invite their friends. It was a family-style Dominican restaurant they were proud of. Dominicans in our community are very proud of Yarumba, they feel that Yarumba is the place to take whoever comes from New York or D.R.,” Peñalo said.
Florida is home to the third largest population of Dominicans in the United States and growing according to the Pew Research Center, but New York City has the largest community by far. Some would argue the best Dominican food is found in upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood.
Popular dishes like mangu, a traditional Dominican breakfast made with mashed plantains, topped with pickled red onions and often paired with fried cheese and meats, drive a loyal following. We see how it’s made on this week’s episode of Let’s Go, South Florida.
Peñalo says you don’t have to go out of state to get great Dominican food.
“When we got here … we were orphans, no representation, and people were saying there wasn’t good Dominican restaurants. That they had to go to New York. That made us work hard to prove we could serve our community and it makes us proud what we’ve achieved,” said Peñalo.
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The city of Miami recognized the chef for his culinary achievement in Dominican gastronomy, giving him a certificate of merit in 2017.
“You want to eat something tasty, we dare you to try our food. We have this ox tail, it’s so delicious. And our fried chicken. This is not a place to go if you are on a diet. If you need low sodium, this isn’t the place to go,” said the chef.
The family is setting their sights on opening another restaurant in the future waiting to see how the pandemic goes. In the meantime, the island energy carries on.
“Having good vibes around you is important. That’s what we bring … you are going to laugh, you are going to see everyone having fun. You’ll dance and eat good food you can’t find anywhere else from lobster to good steak,” said Peñalo.
Yarumba restaurant is at 4740 NW 167th St. in Miami Gardens. Doors open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., Saturdays 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.