After Rodolfo Perez immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic, he spent several years working in a garment factory in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Today, the sharp-dressed, strapping Perez runs a Dominican eatery in the same factory’s elevator vestibule, serving the very workers he once labored alongside.
He calls it “a family restaurant.” He bought what was once the building’s hamburger stand and opened Acuario Cafe in 1991. “I used to work in the factory, so I decided to [sell my food at] a cheaper price for the people working,” he told Gothamist. At the start, he sold hefty plates of rich Latin classics such as carne guisada, pollo guisado, and customer favorite rabo guisado, an oxtail stew, over a bed of rice and beans for $3.50. Almost 30 years later, he sells the same plates for only a few dollars more.
The weekday lunchtime crowd regularly snakes out the door to the service-entrance hallway and around the corner. A confounding mix of construction workers, businesspeople, and parking lot attendants wait patiently for Perez’s plates while deliverymen push past, rolling oversized carts of textiles in and out of the building. While the surrounding neighborhood has changed drastically, many of the customers are regulars of 10 or more years who still patronize the cafe regularly.
Know Before You Go
The cafe is closed on weekends.