Neighborhood Kitchens

Meet Merengue Chef Hector Piña

By Margarita Martinez

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June 27, 2012
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Hector Piña, chef at Merengue, with Margarita (Patricia Alvarado/WGBH)
 
When I met Chef Piña, I learned it is the Dominican dishes from his restaurant Merengue that the Red Sox enjoy during home games at Fenway.
 

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Hector Piña moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1986. Eight years later, in August 1994, he opened his restaurant, Merengue – quite by accident. He had been helping a friend sell a restaurant she owned in Roxbury and when they couldn’t find a buyer, she suggested he purchase it. Piña started out with five tables and a menu of authentic Dominican cuisine. Fast-forward seventeen years and he has thirty tables, an events space and caters home games at Fenway Park.

hector pina and baseball players
Chef Hector Piña with Melkys Cabrera, Luis Vizcaino and Robinson Cano. (Patricia Alvarado/WGBH)
As a child growing up in the Dominican Republic, Piña loved to compare the various flavors he tasted and imagine his own delicious dishes. These childhood imaginings and memories inspired Piña’s recipes at Merengue. When he first began planning Merengue, Piña knew he wanted it to have all the traditional flavors of his grandmother’s kitchen, but with all natural ingredients. Once patrons taste a dish in a restaurant like this, Piña believes, they’ll go straight back in time and feel like they’re eating from their mother’s own table.

Merengue has now become the jewel of Dominican cuisine in Boston, serving a clientele of movie stars and famous baseball players. And as a Roxbury institution, Merengue hosts many politicians who want to reach out to this key community. Piña considers this civic engagement as part of the responsibility of running a community restaurant. He has served on the advisory board of events like Jolgorio Navideno, a Latin American gala in Boston that raises funds for Latino-based educational programs, and VOTO Latino, a civic organization that promotes community participation in local politics.

Piña and his wife Nivia’s next project is to open a new Puerto Rican restaurant, Vejigante, in the South End.

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Watch Neighborhood Kitchens online to find out more about Merengue and Roxbury.

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About Neighborhood Kitchens

Building on a 35-year history of producing Latino and multicultural programming, WGBH’s award winning La Plaza team has a new offering — Neighborhood Kitchens, a series about the exploration of culture through food. Every week the show offers a unique window into immigrant communities in New England.

Saturdays at 4pm on WGBH 2
Fridays at 7:30pm on WGBH 44


About the Author
Margarita Martinez Margarita Martinez
Margarita Martinez grew up in the Bronx, NY and Ossining, NY with a Puerto Rican father and a Franco-American mother. She now calls New England home. Margarita has always had an insatiable appetite for travel and food. She made her first empanada as a teenager visiting Argentina, satisfied her sweet tooth with poffertjes and stroopwafels while studying in Holland, engorged herself on Thai street food for a month in Bangkok, and continues to search for authentic international cuisines in the Northeast. Margarita loves to discover new ingredients, flavors, and cooking approaches that she can bring to her own home kitchen.

On the Go

In each episode, host Margarita Martínez visits a different ethnic restaurant and learns three delicious recipes from the chef. She also explores the restaurant’s neighborhood, discovering hidden gems along the way. Join her as she learns about new ingredients, new cultures, and new neighborhoods. ¡Hasta pronto!

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Find a Neigbhorhood Kitchen
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Margarita's Neighborhood Visits

»Boston: Bristol Lounge
»Boston's South End: Orinoco, Teranga and Oishii
»Boston's Back Bay: Casa Romero
»Boston's North End: Taranta
»Roxbury: Merengue
»Boston's Beacon Hill: Scampo
»All Around Boston: Mei Mei Street Kitchens
»Cambridge: Muqueca, Oleana, and Sandrine's
»
Somerville: Dosa Temple
»Lawrence: Cafe Azteca
»Lowell: Simply Khmer

»Fresh from the Fish Market
»Jamaica Plain: Tres Gatos
»Dorchester: Pho Le and Cafe Polonia
»Medford: Bistro 5
»Portland, ME: Emilitsa
»Newport, RI: Tallulah on Thames
»Pawtucket, RI: Rasoi

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