Pernil (roasted pork) with yellow rice and sweet plantains at...

Pernil (roasted pork) with yellow rice and sweet plantains at El Mofongo in Hempstead. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

It’s that time of year, when it seems like everyone on Long Island has tired of winter and heads south to the Caribbean for a cold weather break. Social media populates with pictures of long-lost friends in bikinis with sandy toes and straw hats on expansive white beaches. Food shots activate the senses with crisp cevíches and fresh shellfish, ice pops and ice cream cones, Medalla beer cans and piña coladas. You, too, need an escape.

Good news: The foods of the tropics are plentiful on the Island. From the shores of Montauk to the malls of Mineola, there are restaurants serving up Haitian meat patties, Bahamian coconut shrimp, and Caribbean stews of all proteins. We went in search of the flavors from four popular Caribbean vacation spots to offer diners a culinary staycation in their own backyard. Pack your bags with your hot sauce of choice and fill up on gas — we’re headed to Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Buen Provecho!

Jamaica: Island Flavor Jerk Cuisine

 544 Broadway, Amityville

There is no shortage of Jamaican food on Long Island, so if you’re longing for a taste of Montego Bay or Negril, you can easily satisfy your craving. But fantastic Jamaican food is another story entirely. The most iconic Jamaican dish is jerk chicken, made with a seasoning of allspice, pepper, onion, garlic, thyme, brown sugar — though individual recipes vary — that gets its signature kick from fiery Scotch bonnet peppers. Great jerk is also earthy, tangy and sweet, a delicate balance. At the no-frills Island Flavor Jerk Cuisine in Amityville, a small storefront offering take-away, that balance is beautifully achieved. Whole chickens are cleaved into fall-off-the-bone portions (whole, 1/2,1/4 chicken; $25, $12.50, $6.25, respectively), and sides like perfectly caramelized plantains, breadfruit, and rice can be added. If you have an extra 20 minutes (or remember to call ahead) try the made-to-order curry shrimp ($20), a smooth and spicy dish that begs return. Ten plump shrimp soak in a rich, turmeric-coconut milk sauce that coats the rice and peas beneath and makes you want to regularly host a Jamaican family feast. More info: 631-532-5188,

Shrimp curry, a spicy beef patty and a half-portion of jerk...

Shrimp curry, a spicy beef patty and a half-portion of jerk chicken at Island Flavor Jerk Chicken in Amityville. Credit: Newsday/Marie Elena Martinez

Dominican Republic: El Mofongo

684 Fulton Ave., Hempstead

Martha Caro and Hector Henriquez, the husband-wife team behind this Hempstead mainstay of seven years, have elevated hospitality to art form. From entry, the spot evokes the inclusive Latin spirit Dominicans are known for, and their food matches their enveloping warmth. Martha lords over the simple steam table with flair, teaching guests about their cuisine, offering samples of Hector’s magic, and securing any who walk through her doors as repeat customers near-instantly. Whether she’s feeding you the soft, fatty, lush pernil, or roast pork, chicken and beef stews ($11.95) layered with bell peppers and onions over yellow rice, Dominican-style fried pork chops ($12.50) or the majestic, cooked-to-order namesake mofongo, mashed green plantains mounded and piled high with choice of protein — in this reviewer’s case, the Manny Ramirez ($14.75) with chicharron and shrimp — she will instill the passion of her heritage and flavors of her food into your DNA. “You have to be Martha to do well around here,” Hector grins, as he watches her do her thing. Putting community first, if you’re short a dollar, Martha won’t let you leave hungry. We can confirm; we absolutely did not. More info: 516-280-7782 

Seafood mofongo at El Mofongo in Hempstead.

Seafood mofongo at El Mofongo in Hempstead. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Cuba: Rincon Criollo

16 W. Jericho Tpke., Huntington Station

Though it might be hard to replicate the gritty music-filled streets of humid Havana in Huntington, step inside Rincon Criollo and you are transported. From the wooden chairs and window blinds to the undulating ceiling fans to the red and white-checkered tablecloths, this feels like paradise. Historical pictures from the island dot the walls and Cuban music is piped from speakers while the room sways in acquiescence. Mint leaves poke over the rims of cocktail glasses as mojítos are delivered to packed tables by Spanish-speaking servers wearing black vests with red ties. “Hola, Princesa,” sings one server to my daughter. “Hola, Prince,” my daughter sings back, grinning. It’s that kind of place. Everyone is friendly, everyone is a regular; everyone is welcomed. Piping hot garlic bread arrives and the festivities begin. Start with ham croquetas ($6), plantains ($6) or black bean soup ($5), and then pick your entree from a selection of wonderful staples like ropa vieja (shredded steak with tomato and onions, $23.95) or masitas de puerco (fried pork chunks, $15.95), or succulent, juicy lechon asado (roast pork, $15.95). If you’re with a group, don’t miss — and we really mean this — the arroz con pollo ($35.95), served in a massive, weathered metal pot. The silken yellow rice, beautifully flavored by a sofrito of onions, garlic and peppers, serves as a nest for multiple moist chicken thighs. It is heaven in a dish, truly. But save room; there’s tres leches cake for dessert. If you feel full, you can hang around until the tables get rearranged and dance off the meal through dawn. More info: 631-271-2277,

A classic mojito and coconut mojito served at Rincon Criollo...

A classic mojito and coconut mojito served at Rincon Criollo in Huntington Station. Credit: Daniel Brennan

Puerto Rico: Island Empanada

Locations in Ronkonkoma, Medford, Yaphank, Merrick, Commack, Lindenhurst, Deer Park, Shirley and Oakdale

While Puerto Rican staples abound in the boroughs of New York City, especially the Bronx, Puerto Rican food has proved harder to find on Long Island. Many staple dishes like mofongo, bacalaitos, and lechon make appearances at Cuban and Dominican restaurants like El Mofongo and Rincon Criollo, but my search for the perfect alcapurrias, or Puerto Rican fritters stuffed with beef picadillo, or tembleque, a wiggly coconut pudding, failed miserably. Luckily, those looking can scratch the itch at one of the nine outposts of Island Empanada, where an overwhelming number of the crescent shaped, dough-stuffed snacks await. At the Lindenhurst branch, which serves 31 varieties ($3.99 each), diners can’t forget these are Puerto Rican-style empanadas, evidenced by the massive mural of the island on the yellow wall behind the bar. From classics like chicken and beef to more playful options like loaded baked potato and buffalo chicken, our favorite was chipotle beef and sweet plantain, where the sweet, creamy plantain balances the smoky heat of the peppered meat. Add on rice and beans and sweet plantains as accompaniment. This is one the kids will love. More info: 631-450-4700,

Island Empanada.

Island Empanada. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

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