“Dominican food, Puerto Rican food — that was ‘Spanish food’ to us,” says Federico Rios, recalling his youth in the New York City borough of Queens. “In Charlotte, the best place to get the Spanish food I grew up with is Tony’s Deli.”
Rios and I are inside the Compare Foods supermarket on Milton Road at the corner of W.T. Harris Boulevard and Sharon Amity Road, eating and talking with Ramon Antonio “Tony” Tejada. He’s turned the old deli counter of this big supermarket into homey 12-seat Tony’s Deli, cooking the foods his parents and grandmother fed him back in Jarabacoa in the island nation of Dominican Republic.
Tejada tells how he got into the restaurant biz. Driving taxis that took dignitaries to the capital of Santo Domingo, he discovered fine dining. In NYC, he learned to cook in restaurant kitchens — living a neighborhood away from Rios, it turns out. He came south for a job in the Compare grocery chain, founded by Dominican immigrants. Five years ago, he launched Tony’s Deli.
Rios has ordered the fried fish. I get chicken stew. We both have fried plantains, soft and sweet, plus a side of pinto beans swimming in rich, soupy gravy. “Africans, French, Spanish, and the Taino Indians — all those cultures contributed to this food,” says Rios, who leads Charlotte’s office of International Relations.
Tejada tells how he slow-cooks the beans in his own version of the Latin herb mix called sofrito. That’s also the key to the chicken stew, which includes slices of potato, yucca and carrot.
Rios’s fish is a Friday-only special, fried head-on, with a crispy skin covering tender and juicy meat. There’s a Saturday-only special: seafood soup. And on Sundays, look for sancocho, the Caribbean’s signature soup.
“Typical Dominican plates,” says Tejada with quiet pride. For Rios, born in New York City to a Puerto Rican dad, it’s a taste of home in east Charlotte.
Hours: 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Sunday.
Location: 3112 Milton Road.