Much like other pop-ups by young entrepreneurs finding success in Dallas, Michael Tavarez’s Picadera — a Dominican street food concept — all began by consulting his mother for recipes when he became homesick for food.
After moving from Queens, New York to Dallas in 2016 for his residential solar panel business, Tavarez saw a profusion of tacos, barbecue and Tex-Mex, but a deficiency of bagels, halal trucks, and New York-style pizzerias.
The food he most keenly missed, though — aside from his mother’s cooking, of course — were sandwiches and other handheld snacks from the Dominican corner stores, or bodegas, in which he grew up working. His family owns a chain of such markets, called Fine Fare Supermarkets, scattered throughout Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx, and his connection to the Dominican Republic actually run even deeper: His cousin, Luis Abinader, is the Caribbean nation’s current president, he says.
Since coming to Dallas, Tavarez has conceived his own style of Dominican street eats based on his mom’s guidance and online cooking videos. He adds his own tweaks with Texas-level spice and amalgams of Mexican, Cuban and Philly fare, all of which he carefully presents with miniature Dominican flags and cocktail umbrellas.
When the coronavirus pandemic suspended Tavarez’s solar panel business, something he sees today as “a blessing and a curse,” he started promoting Picadera events at Dallas and Arlington breweries on Instagram with the hashtag #IAmNotAChef.
Tavarez says it was intimidating to launch a food business in Dallas the year after it was named The Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appetit magazine. But with the approval of his mother, who professed he cooks better than her now, and the encouragement of friends, who were like, “dude, you need to do this,” Picadera’s first event was April 26, 2020 at Celestial Beer Works.
A year later, Picadera is at Deep Ellum Distillery on most Thursdays, and at Legal Draft Beer Company in Arlington on others. Tavarez and his fiancé Jennifer Weil are also typically at Pegasus City Brewery in the Design District on Sundays, and at Peticolas Brewing Company Taproom and Trinity Cider on other days. Tavarez says the best way to follow his schedule is on Instagram or by signing up for email notifications through his website at picaderadfw.com.
No matter where he is, he reports “massive success” at every event. Among the crowds, Dominican Americans frequently come to tell him they recently moved to Dallas and have been looking for Dominican food. And he repeatedly hears, “This is the best chimi burger I’ve ever had.”
To make his chimichurri burger, a Dominican street burger typically served on pan de aqua with a mayo-ketchup sauce, Tavarez taps family connections back home to import Dominican oregano, a finer, stronger spice than standard oregano. He spikes his “secret sauce” with jalapeños and habaneros for Texans who like it spicy, and he uses a Mexican bolillo bread since he liked the shape, and “it’s as close as I was going to get here,” he says.
Family also sends a thicker version of Dominican vanilla for baking airy yet milky tres leches cupcakes, as well as Baldom Ranchero Sazon Criollo Adobo, a Dominican seasoning that not even Amazon can keep in stock.
Tavarez gets particularly creative with plantains. “Dominicans are commonly called platanos. We have figured out how to use plantains in a million different ways,” he says.
He naturally offers tostones, deep fried green plantains — a staple throughout the Caribbean and South America. His Domini-Mex creations include hard and soft taco shells made from mashed plantains, and he uses a lime squeezer to make petite plantain shells for tostones relleno de pollo guisado — tostones filled with stewed chicken and topped with pickled cabbage, queso blanco, and secret sauce.
Also at Picadera events, fans might find NYC chopped cheese sandwiches, a creation that came out of a Dominican bodega in Harlem. Tavarez calls it New York’s answer to a Philly cheesesteak, and he includes the option to add fried mozzarella sticks to the burger and onions that come on a hoagie.
Recently, he’s launched mofongo, a Puerto Rican dish adopted by Dominicans that consists of a mound of deep fried plantains covered in chicken stew. Tavarez offers it in the traditional style, as well as with Dominican picadillo, spiced ground beef.
With the success of the past year, Picadera has become Tavarez’s passion: “I have people who love it, and I can’t let it go.”
He already has investors who’ve expressed interest in a Picadera brick-and-mortar, but Tavarez says he wants to take it slow as he continues to collect data on what entices people to come to pop-ups.
In the meantime, he’s dreaming big. In addition to a restaurant with a nice bar and hookah lounge, he also wants to open a Dominican grocery store with all the products he can’t find here.
“I’m doing this for our people,” Tavarez says, “to give them somewhere to go one or two times a week to mingle and make friends, and to give them a sense of home that we’ve been missing here for awhile.”
Follow Picadera at picaderadfw.com.