Quick Bite to Eat in the Colonial Zone

Cafe Paco Cabana Santo Domingo

Venturing into Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone is always an interesting affair. You never fully know ahead of time what to expect. Will I get harassed by vendors eager to sell as I walk by their stores? Will I be greeted with the pitiful eyes of a begging child, who might turn out to be just a scammer? Will the sun blast down so hard on me that I’ll be blanketed in unrelenting heat?

I’m not trying to paint a bad picture of the Colonial Zone, but it is a fact that in this crazy capital city, simply minding your own business does not give you the right to escape interaction from random people you pass walking by. So when you leave the house, you have to remind yourself that you might get caught up in whatever the city and its inhabitants have cooked up for you that day.

There have been a few occasions where I went early enough into this crumbling historic district that it seemed to be fairly calm. On one such day, my sister and I, along with our newly acquainted American friend, planned a trip to see the museums and some of the old ruins scattered throughout the district.

Of course, you can’t undertake such a trek without a little food in your stomach. The smell of warm bread wafting from a Cafe Paco Cabana, a little French cafe with some outdoor seating, lured us in, as well as signs advertising fresh-fruit smoothies.

I chose a savory, buttery pastry topped with dried tomato and fresh herbs. It was small, but calorie-laden and rich enough that I considered it a meal.

To wash it down, I ordered a passionfruit smoothie. Passionfruit, or “chinola” in Spanish, is a favorite local flavor and one that I grew to love during my Dominican travels. It’s a bit tart, not too sweet, and adds a touch of tropical flavor to smoothies and mixed drinks. You can get fresh-fruit smoothies anywhere in Santo Domingo, but they often come loaded with sugar, so wherever possible I opted for all-natural.

I often joke with my sister that we’re becoming old ladies prematurely. Whenever we sit out at a cafe or on a park bench, we immediately launch into the task at hand: people watching, complete with a thorough analysis and commentary on everyone who passes. This cafe made our newfound hobby extremely easy. The Colonial Zone is full of stores and restaurants, so on any given day, at any time, shoppers and visitors are continuously strolling by.

Of course,”The Zone” has much more to offer than just food. It is, after all, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here are some things any visitor should check out:

  • Calle de las Damas: The first paved street in the New World, this road has some clout. Legend has it that fancy ladies used to don their best and go for a stroll. You, however, can go dressed as you are.
  • The Chocolate Museum: This store is only loosely disguised as a museum, but if you resist the urge to spend and just look at the exhibits, you might learn a thing or two about chocolate.
  • Calle El Conde: A fabulous street for dining al fresco, watching street performers and picking up some of that legendary mamajuana at one of dozens of souvenir shops.
  • Alcazar de Colon: This museum is the most visited in Santo Domingo, and with its impressive collection of late medieval and Renaissance artwork, it’s no wonder. Fun fact: Christopher Columbus’ son lived here about, oh, 500 years ago.
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