We all have our favorite foods made by our mothers or grandmothers. Dishes that bring us comfort or make us nostalgic.
But even better is someone else's grandma's recipes. That's what Luis Martinez wants you to have, his family's recipes from Puerto Rico. At My Abuelas Food, he prepares his grandmother's (abuela in Spanish) best dishes, such as her authentic bean recipe, named after her: el platon de Mery. Mr. Pig, a delicious slow roasted pork nestled with pickles, cheese, mustard and a magic mayo between toasted slices of buttery Cuban bread, is typical of what the men in his family would make.
"Every item has a story," he says. "The food is what I grew up with."
He has taken these family recipes and added his own twist. About half of the menu is vegan. This is influenced by his personal experience of becoming a vegetarian more than a decade ago.
He jokes that his family doesn't understand vegetarianism. When he went back to Puerto Rico to visit, "my aunt made pasta salad with ham, and said to just pick it off," he laughs.
He too had to learn how to cook differently, after a lifetime of eating meat and carbs.
The result is a robust menu of foods that taste like meat but aren't: jackfruit used for pork, vegan fried chicken made of chickpea protein. They both mimic pulled meats, he says. And he swears that by swapping impossible beef for ground beef in his empanadillas (a regional word for empanadas), no one can tell the difference.
He receives his food stock locally, the vegan chicken supplied by Zen Foods. The jackfruit roasted the same way as pork, with seasonings. Desserts are made by local company La Dolce Madness, a mother and daughter team from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Pastrami (real pastrami) comes from Philips Barbecue. You can find other authentic foods, like maduros, tostones and yuca - all vegan. Soon, all sides and dipping sauces will be vegan.
When Chef Martinez cooks real meat, he does it entirely by scent, he says, with his employee Pedro providing an occasional taste testing.
It is clear how much his family and upbringing influence the chef. The restaurant is decorated with family photos, Puerto Rican flags and murals, as well as artifacts from his childhood. The open air setting with tables inside and out is reminiscent of island life - you can almost smell the salt air.
The beer sold here is also unique. Chef Martinez created the recipes for la Fria and el Velorio in partnership with local brewer Second Self Beer Company. They are distributed only in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and 182 locations in Puerto Rico.
The food is delicious. The empanada is flaky and crispy, better than any I've had in Jamaica, Argentina, Cuba or Miami. Mr. Pig, one of the most popular items, is decadent. The pastrami comes a close second.
My Abuelas Food is located just off the Atlanta BeltLine. Take the BeltLine south, cross over Irwin Street, and you will see SPX Alley on the right. Take the stairs or elevator next to the James Room, up to Studioplex. My Abuelas Food is on the right. You can also drive there and park at Studioplex. The restaurant is open Wednesday through Saturday, and offers dine in, take out and delivery.
An Atlanta native, Nicole Gustin is the Founder & CEO of BiteLines, which offers walking food tours on the Atlanta BeltLine. She considers the BeltLine her backyard, and is excited to see how Atlanta is reinventing itself. The BiteLines blog features art, restaurants, happenings and weirdness on the Atlanta BeltLine. Share story ideas and pics at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow on Instagram @bitelinesatl.
Note: We have paused our tours during the pandemic, but will ramp up again as soon as it’s safe.