Columbus, OH: Latin Grill Puts its Food on Wheels

For years, Carolina and Carlos Gutierrez have tried in vain to rent space for a second restaurant. Carlos Gutierrez said their new food truck has a different focus from their Downtown Venezuelan restaurant, El Arepazo, selling more street-food entrees with a more laid-back feel. Courtney Hergesheimer | DISPATCH photo

By Denise Trowbridge | FOR THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

For years, Carolina and Carlos Gutierrez have tried in vain to rent space for a second restaurant. Carlos Gutierrez said their new food truck has a different focus from their Downtown Venezuelan restaurant, El Arepazo, selling more street-food entrees with a more laid-back feel. Courtney Hergesheimer | DISPATCH photo

Owners of El Arepazo open Yerba Buena Latin Grill, a high-tech food truck

The owner of the Venezuelan restaurant El Arepazo in Pearl Alley Downtown has officially opened a second location – on wheels.

Yerba Buena Latin Grill, a high-tech food truck, made its debut at festivals around central and southern Ohio in April and has settled in every Wednesday through Saturday at a Clintonville location, at 4080 N. High St.

“I had always wanted a food trailer, even before we opened El Arepazo,” said owner Carlos Gutierrez. “It’s more simple. You can still deliver a good product, and it’s fun.”

The 28-foot, decked-out wonder on wheels dishes up patacons and ceviche along with tacos and other south-of-the border dishes.

Although the fare is similar to the Latin American specialties that have made El Arepazo a packed-to-the-gills Downtown lunch spot, Yerba Buena has its own focus.

 

The Yerba Buena food truck is at 4080 N. High St. in Clintonville. The truck made its debut at festivals in southern and central Ohio in April. Courtney Hergesheimer | DISPATCH

“It’s more street food and more laid-back,” Gutierrez said. “We don’t want to make it complicated. We’re trying to keep it simple.” The menu features affordable street food options such as $3 fish tacos, $2 steak tacos, $3 empanadas and $5 Mexican sopas – a deep-fried corn shell topped with meat and vegetables. There are also a handful of $3 side dishes such as ripe, sweet fried plantains, fried yucca, chorizo sausage, chicharron (deep-fried pork belly) and tostones, which are unripe fried plantains.

Some of the best-sellers from El Arepazo are also available, including a $6 ceviche salad and $7 patacons, which are whole ripe plantains that have been deep-fried then topped with chicken, beef, or pork and fixings such as banana peppers, lettuce and cheese. And, of course, the $6 arepas, with a choice of meat, and $7 flat, sweet corncakes topped with a choice of meat plus lettuce, cheese and avocado.

Yerba Buena sprang from failed attempts to open a second brick-and-mortar restaurant, Gutierrez said. He had tried for years to find a space and work out a lease.

“We never could agree with the landlords about the space and what they wanted and what we wanted to put into it,” he said. “Then the economy got really bad, and I started seeing a lot of restaurants suffering. They’re still suffering. I still wanted to do something else, but maybe something that wasn’t as risky as a restaurant.”

Enter the food truck, which has lower startup and overhead costs than a traditional restaurant. And then there was the benefit of being able to move to where the customers are.

“Food trucks are hot right now, and it’s something I have always wanted to do,” Gutierrez said.

In fact, food trucks were rated the hottest operational trend in the restaurant industry this year, according to a National Restaurant Association chef survey. Gutierrez is no stranger to food on the go. Before El Arepazo opened, he and his family served food at local festivals in a 10-by-10-foot vendor’s tent using portable equipment.

Yerba Buena is a step up.

It’s a top-of-the-line commercial kitchen on wheels, featuring an ice machine, refrigerators, a stove and a deep fryer, hand- and vegetable-wash stations, fresh and gray water tanks, and air conditioning.

“I can do just what any other restaurant can do, but I can do it on wheels, and move anywhere I want,” Gutierrez said.

“It’s a good opportunity. You have a lot less headache and overhead, and people are more understanding if the food takes a few minutes longer. It’s a pretty cool experience, and if you are going to own a food truck, you need to have fun, because that’s why you do it.”

Yerba Buena Latin Grill is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 8:30 p.m., weather permitting.

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