Atlanta Orders In: Buena Gente finds sweet spot with fans of Cuban food

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

As a little girl growing up in Miami, Stacie Antich would visit her Cuban grandpa at his office in Little Havana. He was her babysitter, and she helped him with paperwork. Together, they frequented the community’s numerous Cuban cafeterias, fruterias and ventanitas — coffee shops, where pastelitos, croquetas and cups of sweet espresso were handed through the namesake “little windows.”

When Antich began to bake in a serious way, she focused on classics like cookies, brownies, carrot cake and cheesecake — it made no sense to offer traditional Cuban confections that could be found all over South Florida.

Fast forward to 2007: She and her husband, Manny Rodriguez, moved to Atlanta, where they discovered their niche cooking Cuban favorites — shatteringly crisp phyllo triangles stuffed with guava preserves; half-moon empanadas filled with beef; and Manny’s pressed sandwiches.

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

In 2016, the husband-and-wife team launched Buena Gente Cuban Bakery out of a replica of a vintage Shasta camper. From the adorable pink-and-white trailer with its own ventanita, they hawked sweet and savory pastries, coffee drinks and Cuban sandwiches. Writing for Atlanta magazine, Jennifer Zyman named Buena Gente’s Cuban sandwich the best in the city. Suddenly, the mobile mom-and-pop was on the road to food-truck fame.

The brick-and-mortar expression came in August: a welcome slice of old-school Miami, sandwiched between the Po’Boy Shop and Community Q in Decatur.

Five mornings a week, the cafe brews coladas (three shots of espresso, traditionally shared and sipped from tiny shot glasses), cortaditos (two shots with steamed milk) and cafe con leches — perfect jolts for pairing with a heavenly pastelito or papa rellena (fried potato ball stuffed with picadillo).

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Because the shop was imagined as a tiny spot with just a few tables and mostly takeout, “we didn’t have to do some huge pivot," Antich said, though COVID-19 did wreak havoc on the construction schedule.

For now, there are two tables out front — that’s it. Only six customers are allowed in at a time. Once orders are placed, patrons wait outside for their food and drink.

That’s how I found myself outside Buena Gente shortly after noon on a recent weekday, slurping a comforting papaya milkshake and waiting for a box of pastries, two pressed sandwiches and a trio of sweets from the cold case.

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

On the menu are seven sandwiches and a vegan wrap. New to me is the croqueta preparada, in which three ham croquettes are smashed into Cuban or medianoche bread, along with ham, cheese, pickles and mustard. Yowza! To think, I’ve been missing out all these years.

In order for me to declare their Cuban the best in town, I’d have to drive around and try ’em all. I can say Manny’s is perhaps the most lovingly crafted version I’ve had, anywhere. No wonder: The bakery makes the bread and roasts the pork in its own mojo sauce. The $9.50 beauty is hard to finish, especially if you sneak a croqueta on the way home, or want to save room for a wedge of terrifically tangy Key lime pie or a cup of luscious flan.

I was gobsmacked by nearly everything I tried at Buena Gente, from the creamy papaya batido, to the chicken croquetas (textbook examples made with béchamel and a touch of nutmeg), to the gorgeous, irresistible square of tres leches cake with the cherry on top.

Buena Gente is the genuine article, a Cuban ventanita come to Clairmont.

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Menu: classic Cuban pastries, sandwiches, coffee drinks and batidos (milkshakes)

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: Cuban sandwich, croqueta preparada, guava and cream cheese pastelito, beef pastelito, chicken croquetas, chicken empanada, tres leches, Key lime pie., flan, papaya milkshake

Service options: walk-up only, though the shop promises phone and online ordering soon

Outdoor seating: two tables

Mask policy: yes, for guests and all employees

Address, phone: 1365 Clairmont Road, Decatur; 678-744-5638

Hours: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays


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