Born in Cuba and raised in New York, Fernando Saralegui found the best way to stay in touch with his roots was through food. Now, Saralegui is injecting his Cuban roots to the Austin community with his new service, Papi’s Kitchen.
“It’s kind of funny that when you talk about Spanish food that isn’t Mexican in Texas, people aren’t as comfortable with it,” Saralegui said. “I want to offer the community authentic Cuban food that’s still approachable.”
Papi’s Kitchen is delivery-only. Saralegui said he found this to be the easiest point of entry into the food scene during his 27 years of service.
“I really see the delivery only model as the new food truck, which blew up because it substantially lowered the price of entry for chefs to start restaurants,” Saralegui said. “This model also allows chefs to more easily pivot on their concepts and improve if something isn’t working.”
The idea for Papi’s Kitchen comes from a combination of a pilot Saralegui shot for Austin KLRU and a book he published called “Our Latin Table,” which is a cookbook focusing on Cuban versions of popular holiday meals.
“The book was like a family album for me,” Saralegui said. “It became very important to keep these recipes alive while also making them my own.”
The bulk of Papi’s Kitchen is divided into sandwich options and entree options. One notable entree is El Rack, which is a rack of braised guava baby back ribs. These ribs do not provide the trademark smoky flavor that Texans have come to associate with ribs, but instead pack a sweet taste, courtesy of the guava sauce basted generously over the rack. It’s an unconventional way to prepare ribs in Central Texas, but El Rack will prove itself tasty to anyone willing to give its sweet punch a chance.
The sandwich and hand held options are the true highlights of the Papi’s Kitchen menu. El Dog, in particular, makes a memorable meal out of something as simple as a hot dog. Similar to a Sonora-style hot dog, this hand held meal tops a bacon-wrapped frank with an impressive combination of black beans, chimichurri mayo, pickled jalapeno and cotija cheese. All of these things come together to yield a satisfyingly savory and spicy flavor that will make diners wonder why America doesn’t prepare its hot dogs the same way.
The Cuban “Ruban”, which is essentially just a Cuban sandwich, is a classic done exceptionally well by Papi’s Kitchen. With the usual ingredients of pork carnitas, ham, swiss cheese and yellow mustard, the Cuban “Ruban” succeeds in paying homage to arguably the most popular food option to come out of Cuba. Not too salty and not too soggy, the pressed brioche bun brings the ideal amount of softness to hold the ingredients together. The sandwich, though, could be a
The menu also offers an extensive selection of sides like tostones, chicharrones and picadillo empanadas. The Cup o’ Elotes, or corn in a cup, is a good vegetable side to balance out all the meaty entrees and sandwiches. It has the same core ingredients of corn, mayo, cotija cheese and cayenne that is common in Texas, but relies much more heavily on the cayenne than the mayo and cheese, giving the corn a much spicier flavor.
Overall, Papi’s Kitchen is a good option for quickly delivered Cuban food. The fact that it’s delivery only makes it a bit pricier than other options and some of the menu items could use a little more work, but the effort that Saralegui is putting into this project will surely get it to the level he’s aiming for.
Hours: Monday-Friday 6pm-10pm