First Look: Find Latin American plant-based foods at Papi Ali’s in Tucker

Papi Ali's is a new restaurant on Main Street in Tucker. Its menu includes (top row from left) Lime to Me bowl, Ginger Mango Pineapple juice, Corn and Potato Empanadas, (bottom row from left) Chorizo Torta sandwich, Papi's Bowl and MBLTA sandwich. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

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Papi Ali's is a new restaurant on Main Street in Tucker. Its menu includes (top row from left) Lime to Me bowl, Ginger Mango Pineapple juice, Corn and Potato Empanadas, (bottom row from left) Chorizo Torta sandwich, Papi's Bowl and MBLTA sandwich. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Papi Ali’s recently opened in a neat storefront space on Main Street in Tucker. The plant-based, chef-driven “Latin Kitchen” from Mikail Ali offers a fast-casual menu with sandwiches, wraps, grain bowls and snacks, plus build-your-own tacos, and fresh-pressed juices and smoothies.

Ali has lived in Tucker and Snellville his whole life, and worked in restaurants most of his adult life. “My first job was working at Red Lobster,” he said one afternoon at Papi Ali’s.

“But I got into fine dining four years ago, working at Bar Mercado in Atlanta. That’s where I really developed my palate and my skills. Chef Raul Dominguez taught me a lot about how to cook fine. Right when I was hired, they were transitioning over to Latin American food, and I really learned to love Latin American cooking.”

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Sitting in front of his own original artwork at Papi Ali's is owner Mikail Ali. He's known as Papi by co-workers and restaurant patrons. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Sitting in front of his own original artwork at Papi Ali's is owner Mikail Ali. He's known as Papi by co-workers and restaurant patrons. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

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Sitting in front of his own original artwork at Papi Ali's is owner Mikail Ali. He's known as Papi by co-workers and restaurant patrons. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

The eureka moment of fusing Latin and plant-based dishes came to Ali one day when he was planning to make dinner for a group of friends.

“I decided I was going to cook for everybody and make it all vegan,” he said. “It’s challenging to transfer the flavor to the veggies. But I had so much fun doing it, I decided I wanted to do it full time. So I transitioned to a plant-based diet myself. And then I just started developing recipes that had that same Latin American flavor that everyone loves, but is in a healthier medium.”

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Lime to Me bowl at Papi Ali's (cilantro lime rice, lettuce, black beans, avocado, roasted veggies, slaw and chipotle crema). (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Lime to Me bowl at Papi Ali's (cilantro lime rice, lettuce, black beans, avocado, roasted veggies, slaw and chipotle crema). (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

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Lime to Me bowl at Papi Ali's (cilantro lime rice, lettuce, black beans, avocado, roasted veggies, slaw and chipotle crema). (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Asked about the secrets of making plant-based dishes delicious, Ali said, “It’s a lot of love. A lot of time. A lot of effort, and a lot of steps. So it’s drying out the veggies, then rehydrating them with something else.

“We make our own mushroom chorizo here in-house, which I think is a pretty good chorizo substitute. It tastes the same, it looks the same, and has the same texture. We do a tofu that we marinate in blended-up peppers, to give it a smoky, salty taste. And we have a chipotle jackfruit, which is really tough to make, but worth it, because it tears like chicken.”

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The favorite of owner Mikail Ali is Papi's Bowl (mushroom chorizo, sofrito brown rice, black beans, red pepper crema, plantains, slaw, avocado and roasted veggies). (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

The favorite of owner Mikail Ali is Papi's Bowl (mushroom chorizo, sofrito brown rice, black beans, red pepper crema, plantains, slaw, avocado and roasted veggies). (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

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The favorite of owner Mikail Ali is Papi's Bowl (mushroom chorizo, sofrito brown rice, black beans, red pepper crema, plantains, slaw, avocado and roasted veggies). (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Among the most popular items on the menu, the Papi’s Bowl is Ali’s favorite. It’s “a little bit of everything,” he said. The sampler is layered with mushroom chorizo, sofrito brown rice, black beans, red pepper crema, plantains, pickled slaw, avocado and roasted veggies.

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At Papi Ali's, the MBLTA is a mushroom bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich with chipotle crema. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

At Papi Ali's, the MBLTA is a mushroom bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich with chipotle crema. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

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At Papi Ali's, the MBLTA is a mushroom bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich with chipotle crema. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

The MBLTA is a mushroom bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich, with chipotle crema, on toasted 12-grain bread.

“For that, I was trying to blend traditional American with Latin American, so there is the chipotle crema, and the bacon is Latin the way I spice it,” Ali said. “But then it has romaine lettuce, juicy thick tomatoes, and fresh avocado. And you have an option to switch it around and put it on our giant challah roll, or inside a garlic and herb flour tortilla.”

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The Corn and Potato Empanadas at Papi Ali's are baked to keep them healthier. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

The Corn and Potato Empanadas at Papi Ali's are baked to keep them healthier. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

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The Corn and Potato Empanadas at Papi Ali's are baked to keep them healthier. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

On the snack section of the menu, there are big corn and potato, roasted veggie, and mushroom chorizo empanadas. “They can be a little tricky to make, especially since we don’t have a fryer,” Ali said. “Everything is baked to keep it healthier.”

As for the name of the restaurant, “I’m Mikail Ali, so I’m Papi Ali. But Papi was a nickname for me at Bar Mercado,” Ali said.

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The Chorizo Torta has mushroom chorizo, roasted veggies, tomato, lettuce, and roasted red pepper crema. “We make our own mushroom chorizo here in-house, which I think is a pretty good chorizo substitute," says Mikail Ali, the owner of Papi Ali's. "It tastes the same, it looks the same, and has the same texture." (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

The Chorizo Torta has mushroom chorizo, roasted veggies, tomato, lettuce, and roasted red pepper crema. “We make our own mushroom chorizo here in-house, which I think is a pretty good chorizo substitute," says Mikail Ali, the owner of Papi Ali's. "It tastes the same, it looks the same, and has the same texture." (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

caption arrowCaption
The Chorizo Torta has mushroom chorizo, roasted veggies, tomato, lettuce, and roasted red pepper crema. “We make our own mushroom chorizo here in-house, which I think is a pretty good chorizo substitute," says Mikail Ali, the owner of Papi Ali's. "It tastes the same, it looks the same, and has the same texture." (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Surprisingly, Ali wasn’t planning to open a restaurant, until he happened to notice an empty space on Main Street. He’d been operating his plant-based Papi Ali’s food truck, mostly making tacos and burritos, and figuring that a brick-and-mortar restaurant would be years down the road.

“But the building owner was here when I was checking out the lease sign, and he asked if I wanted to go inside and take a look,” Ali said. “So we did, and we got to talk about the menu, and he was excited about it, and I was excited about it. And he had everything set up in the kitchen, so I could just move in and do my thing.”

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Opening a restaurant happened sooner than expected for Mikail Ali when he came across this spot on Main Street in Tucker. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Opening a restaurant happened sooner than expected for Mikail Ali when he came across this spot on Main Street in Tucker. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

caption arrowCaption
Opening a restaurant happened sooner than expected for Mikail Ali when he came across this spot on Main Street in Tucker. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

DINING OUT

11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. Closed Mondays.

2323 Main St., Tucker. 470-575-6423, papialis.square.site.

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