On the famous Malecón de Santo Domingo, the pier that runs parallel to the Caribbean Sea in the capital of the Dominican Republic, vendors push street carts stuffed with chimichurris, the island’s tropical take on boardwalk burgers and sandwiches that roll out once the sun goes down. For twin brothers Aris and Raymond Compres, chimis evoke memories of nighttime strolls with their parents. When they opened their second D.C. restaurant, Mecho’s Dominican Kitchen, earlier this year off U.S. Route 50 in Northeast, they wanted to serve chimis to distinguish it from their other place, the long-running Los Hermanos in Columbia Heights.
Mecho’s (2450 Market Street NE Suite #801) offers four kinds of chimis, and none are sold at Los Hermanos. There’s the chimi clásico, a beef burger on a sesame seed bun filled with cabbage, shredded carrot, sautéed onions, and Mecho’s salsa rosada. Versions with chicken and pulled pork shoulder contain the same condiments inside classic torta rolls.
While Aris Compres says you won’t find a vegetarian chimi in the Dominican, he introduced one at Mecho’s with grilled cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, sautéed onions, and the same pink salsa.
“It’s good to have another option that’s not, you know, rice and beans,” Aris Compres quips.
The brothers, 34, joke that while they can’t cook, they know exactly how the food’s supposed to taste. The twins were born and raised in the District, but their family moved to Santo Domingo from 1998 to 2001 in part so they could beef up their Spanish.
“That helped us tremendously, managing this business because half of our clientele are sometimes Spanish-speaking only. So if they see me as … a fake Dominican … how can I sell authentic food if I can’t pitch it?” Raymond Compres asks. “I don’t know if I could do it if I only knew English.”
The brothers named their 2,400 square-foot restaurant after their mother, Mercedes Compres. Their dad, Ramón Arismendy Compres, calls her “Mecho” for short.
“We decided just to name it after our mom because all the recipes are hers; everything started with her cuisine” Raymond Compres says.
Unlike Los Hermanos, Mecho’s sells alcohol in a space with room for 70 customers inside and its 30 patrons outside. The Compres twins recently added a happy hour (2 p.m. to 6 p.m.) that starts with three $5 frozen cocktails — daiquiris, margaritas, and piña coladas. Beers, including Dominican Presidente, are $3. Keep an eye out for smoothies made with a single shot of Dominican rum.
Aside from the chimis and alcoholic drinks, the menu items at Mecho’s and Los Hermanos are essentially identical. So there’s a Dominican breakfast platter with mangú (mashed plantains) and salami. Mofongos arrive unadorned or topped with pork belly chicharron, fried chicken, or shrimp. The twins are still testing out the Northeast market to see if the neighborhood has a taste for pig’s feet and cow’s stomach.
“We’re going to start just rolling them out as one day a week to see if they sell or not,” Raymond Compres says.
Mecho’s is situated in a brand-new building inside the Shops at Dakota Crossing. The strip mall is a far cry from Los Hermanos, which does business from two older rowhouses that the brothers affectionately call “the hole in the wall.”
The twins kept Mecho’s design simple. The red and yellow colors link it to Los Hermanos, and the shade of dark blue splashed throughout the restaurant represents a color on the Dominican flag.
The twins commissioned Dominican painter William Bautista to produce a mural depicting a lively street scene along the Caribbean. In the painting, a vendor hawks coconuts, while several men watch a riveting baseball game in a corner store and bar. Another group of middle-aged men are playing dominoes. All of the men in the mural are modeled after loyal patrons at Los Hermanos, which is nearing its 25-year anniversary.
The blue shirt-wearing man seated at the table about to slap down a domino represents the twin’s father, Ramón Arismendy Compres. In 1995, he bought the two Park Road rowhouses for a corner store and restaurant. The brothers say the neighborhood struggled with drugs, prostitution, and gang violence at the time. The Metro station wouldn’t be built until 1999. There was no central shopping center with a Target, Best Buy, or Bed Bath & Beyond. The neighborhood was still marred from the aftermath of the violent uprising that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.
Los Hermanos developed a loyal following. The Compres family decided to close their tiny shop and expand the restaurant in 2007, a year before Target opened, accelerating the neighborhood’s development. The decision to buy property was critical to the success of the family business.
“If we were renting, if the taxes don’t kick you out, then whoever’s renting to you will, and that happened to a lot of people there on our strip actually,” Raymond Compres says of Park Road. “Nobody was really making Dominican food in the area, and that’s how we were able to survive.”
The twins plan to keep building. Mecho’s represents the prototype for a franchise they’d eventually like to launch in places that don’t have many options for Dominican cuisine. The brothers already feed visiting Latino baseball players, especially Dominicans, at Los Hermanos.
In the short term, the Compres twins are working toward building the sort of loyal customer base in Northeast that has kept Los Hermanos running all these years.
“I tell people … ‘If you come here often enough, I’m going to have to put you on the mural,’” Raymond Compres says.