When Almessy Cuesta enters El Caldero Dominican Restaurant, she thinks of home.
The smell of fried plantains, spices and cooked meat fills the air, as dishes are served in traditional caldrons.
“I want them to feel like when they come in, they’re in the D.R. (Dominican Republic),” Cuesta, who co-owns the business, said. “The food tastes just like it, the atmosphere, the environment, everything is just like back at home in the Dominican Republic.”
Cuesta opened El Caldero in early January with her husband, Joel, off 2550 Atlanta Highway in Gainesville, at the Chicopee Crossing shopping center.
Cuesta said starting her own restaurant has been a dream of hers since she started culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Tucker. Although her vision took around 10 years to accomplish, the co-owner said she’s thrilled to finally see it come to fruition.
For Cuesta, cooking isn’t only a passion, but something that has been passed down to her from generations of family members.
“It comes from my ancestors,” Cuesta said. “My grandmother owned a restaurant in the Dominican Republic, and my mom owned a restaurant in the Dominican Republic, too. I enjoy the kitchen, I enjoy cooking.”
Cuesta said she moved to the U.S. at age 9, and earned her citizenship 11 years later. She currently lives in Gainesville and works as the chef of her restaurant.
“People have loved it so far,” she said. “We’re the only Dominican restaurant in Hall County.”
While Cuesta takes the title of chef, her mother, Rosalia Hernandez, works as the “traditional cook,” making sure the dishes are authentic up to par with her home’s cuisine.
Using family recipes, Cuesta said all the dishes served at El Caldero are representative of Dominican food. Some of the menu items include rice, beans and mofongo, which involves frying plantains and mixing in pork skin, garlic and butter. Mangú con Los Tres Golpes is another staple dish prepared at the restaurant, typically eaten during breakfast. This includes plantains served with “the three hits” — salami, fried cheese and fried eggs.
The menu offers a large selection of main dishes, appetizers, sides and desserts, ranging from around $4.25 to $17. El Caldero offers a $6.99 lunch special Monday through Friday that entails rice, meat and salad.
Cuesta said the name for the restaurant, which translates in English to “the caldron,” was inspired by the way Dominican food is prepared and served. She added that the larger caldrons used to cook the meat and rice impart both flavor and color.
“We definitely want to invite everyone in the Hall County and Gainesville area to come and join us and try the authentic Dominican food that we brought to the community,” Cuesta said.
El Caldero is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. People can dine-in, place an order for pickup by calling 678-943-8986 or use DoorDash for delivery. For more information, visit el-caldero-dominican-restaurant.business.site.