Atlanta Orders In: My Abuelas Food brings island vibes to Auburn Avenue

A takeout order from My Abuelas Food includes La Tripleta de Mr. Pig sandwich; an appetizer sampler with a beef empanadilla, tostones and fried yuca; and Valeria’s Birthday Plate (fried pork chop, rice and peas and pasta salad).
Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A takeout order from My Abuelas Food includes La Tripleta de Mr. Pig sandwich; an appetizer sampler with a beef empanadilla, tostones and fried yuca; and Valeria’s Birthday Plate (fried pork chop, rice and peas and pasta salad). Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

On a sunny Saturday, the doors of a corner unit of Studioplex have been rolled up to reveal an authentic slice of Puerto Rico, just steps from the Atlanta Beltline.

As tiny Puerto Rican flags dance in the breeze, the cook drops an order of empanadillas, tostones and yuca strips into the fryer. Someone walks in and orders una fria, “a cold one.” And, a family of three Latina women celebrates a birthday in one corner of the open-air fonda.

Welcome to My Abuelas Food, Luis Martinez’s love letter to the Caribbean island where he was born, and where he spent many summers watching his abuelas (grandmothers) — Mama Mery and Mama Day — cook traditional food.

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This is My Abuelas Food’s La Tripleta de Mr. Pig, a pressed sandwich made with pernil, pastrami and pollo. 
Courtesy of Luis Martinez / My Abuelas Food
This is My Abuelas Food’s La Tripleta de Mr. Pig, a pressed sandwich made with pernil, pastrami and pollo. Courtesy of Luis Martinez / My Abuelas Food

Credit: Luis Martinez

Credit: Luis Martinez

Martinez’s family always told him he would open a restaurant. He didn’t believe them. But, after becoming involved in Atlanta’s beer and festival scene, Martinez, a marketing professional who’s lived here since 1996, decided he wanted to share his culture through food.

Starting as a pop-up in 2018, My Abuelas Food was invited to run the kitchen at the Spindle in February 2020. On Thursdays through Saturdays, Martinez, a pescatarian, proudly offers a menu that is split down the middle between meat and vegan dishes.

His signature Mr. Pig sandwich, for example, can be had with roasted pork and Swiss cheese. Or, it can be built with plant-based “pork” made with jackfruit. “We are a 50-50 restaurant,” Martinez, 33, said of the format.

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At My Abuelas Food, Luis Martinez pays tribute to his Puerto Rican grandmothers. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
At My Abuelas Food, Luis Martinez pays tribute to his Puerto Rican grandmothers. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

While the sandwiches and starters stay the same, Martinez frequently changes the rest.

He’s been known to set up an empanadilla bar, at which customers can pick their own fillings, or stage a vegetarian burger blitz. March was mofongo month. (If you are a lover of the balls of smashed green plantain that are a Puerto Rican staple, they’ll return in July.)

If a friend has a birthday, he might ask them what they want to eat on their special day, and then he’ll put the celebratory plate on the menu.

That’s what was happening the day I stopped by.

Valeria Sanchez, who runs La Dolce Madness bakery with her mother, Belkys L. Perez Veras, was having a birthday. Martinez, who has sold La Dolce Madness sweets from the beginning, cooked Sanchez’s requested lunch: a fried boneless pork chop, arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas) and pasta salad. How sweet is that?

“We are constantly changing,” he said of the small restaurant, decorated with commissioned artwork and personal mementos, including photos of his abuelas. “We like to work with local vendors, so my vegan protein is made locally by a company called Zen Foods. My pastrami is made by Phillips Barbecue. Right now, I’m adding a tempeh to the menu that is made by a local organization. I just work with small vendors to purchase their products, and then I make a recipe out of it that is traditional for us.”

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My Abuelas Food is decorated with colorful art and owner Luis Martinez's personal memorabilia. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
My Abuelas Food is decorated with colorful art and owner Luis Martinez's personal memorabilia. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Martinez, a co-founder of Dames and Dregs Beer Fest, a 3-year-old event that recognizes women in the industry, even collaborated on the recipes for the two brews he sells: El Velorio and La Fria, brewed by Atlanta’s Second Self Beer Co.

El Velorio (The Wake), an imperial porter made with Puerto Rican chocolate and coffee, came first, in 2019. “It’s dedicated to the resilience the people of Puerto Rico had after Maria,” Martinez said.

“At funeral wakes, people in Puerto Rico drink hot chocolate, and they talk and tell stories,” he said. With the pandemic, El Velorio seems to resonate even more.

La Fria, a lager, is a tribute to Martinez’s late father. In Puerto Rico, he said, “People say, pasame una fria (Pass me a cold one).” When his father told him that, Martinez felt like he was a man, on equal footing with his elders.

Little did he know the ventures that would follow.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

Luis Martinez sometimes creates birthday plates for friends and puts them on the menu. This is the birthday plate he made for his friend Valeria Sanchez, who runs La Dolce Madness bakery with her mother. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Luis Martinez sometimes creates birthday plates for friends and puts them on the menu. This is the birthday plate he made for his friend Valeria Sanchez, who runs La Dolce Madness bakery with her mother. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

MY ABUELAS FOOD

Menu: Puerto Rican, with vegan and meat options

Alcohol: yes

What I ordered: appetizer sampler with a beef empanadilla, tostones and fried yuca; Valeria’s Birthday Plate (fried pork chop, macaroni salad, arroz con gandules); La Tripleta de Mr. Pig (pressed sandwich with pernil, pastrami and pollo); a six-pack of La Fria. Everything was lovingly prepared and delicious, but the empanadilla and the sandwich were stellar. I look forward to spending a lazy afternoon at this sweet, friendly spot.

Service options: dine-in, takeout or delivery via Grubbub or Postmates

Outdoor dining: yes

Mask policy: yes, for employees and patrons

Address, phone: At the Spindle, 659 Auburn Ave. NE, Atlanta; 404-915-3888

Hours: 12-5 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays

Website: myabuelasfood.com

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