Papi’s Cuban Grill shares authentic Cuban experience


Shea Edwards

Families and friends eat dinner at Papi’s to unwind on a Thursday night.

Shea Edwards

Papi’s Cuban Grill, a popular Midtown restaurant, not only has an irresistible flavor but also a history extending back to 1990 when its founder fled Cuba. 
While Reynaldo Regalado, the owner of Papi’s, trained every day for a five-mile swim to escape a communist regime, he came across a life-altering proposition. A fisherman, who also desired an escape from Cuba, told Regalado that he had access to a boat ‘borrowed’ from the Cuban government. 
Regalado, his childhood friend and the fisherman’s family devised a plan where on Nov. 18, 1990, the 13 refugees fled in the dead of the night to embark on a four-hour journey to freedom. Before Regalado’s escape, most Cubans suffered from poverty; food was rationed and many basic goods and services were restrained. 
With only the clothes on his back and his family’s recipes in mind, Regalado got one step closer to fulfill his father’s dream to bring his recipes to the U.S. and open his own restaurant.
The first Papi’s was located on Ponce de Leon Avenue. A year after the restaurant opened, Teresa Regalado, Reynaldo’s wife, started to work at Papi’s.The restaurant started as a small sandwich shop in a single room with only three tables. Over the course of several years, Regaldo expanded to multiple rooms and booths.
“He did the section where the bar is, and then five years after that all the tenants from the business left the back section of the building; so, he got the other sections,” Teresa Regalado said. 
The process to expand Papi’s wasn’t anything Teresa Regalado couldn’t handle. Despite local unfamiliarity with Cuban food, the business did not struggle to grow.
“Cuban food, when we opened, wasn’t known like it’s known now, but we got a good response from the customers at the time,” Teresa Regalado said. “Any business takes time to build up.”
According to Thomas (Tommy) Escovedo, one of the restaurant’s managers and waiters, Papi’s is rated the number five Cuban restaurant in the country, the best Cuban restaurant in Atlanta and attracts people from all over the southeast. 

When Papi’s first opened its doors in 2002, Reynaldo Regalado dedicated his restaurant to his father, also known as Papi, which translates from Spanish to “Daddy” in English. His father wished for a better life outside Cuba for his family. Regalado achieved this in strong hopes to bring Cuban-inspired food and culture to Americans.
There are many diverse groups that go to Papi’s, not only to enjoy the taste of authentic food, but also to experience the colorful atmosphere that surrounds it. The bright yellow color of the building and the upbeat music inside make Papi’s a memorable experience. 
Customer Kai Brooks said she first came to Papi’s because of the convenient location but hasn’t been in five years. She said she knows the food will still be good, even after her absence. 
“I love the flavor,” Brooks said. “I think they have a really good flavor that goes with their atmosphere; it makes it special.”
People from all backgrounds come to taste Papi’s food. 
“We’re in Atlanta; so, we get a diverse group of people, and we get people with different Latin backgrounds,” Escovedo said. “We get Columbians, Dominicans, Cubans and Puerto Ricans.”
Because of Papi’s traditional menu, Latinos in the Atlanta area gravitate to the restaurant. Escovedo, who has worked at Papi’s for five years, notices many regulars who return to the restaurant because of the quality and consistency of the menu. 
“We do have a lot of regulars that are even people who will come back or from Miami who consider this to be as close and authentic to Cuban food,” Escovedo said.