Latin American pop-up MashRoots is sowing the seeds of its future, opening a brick-and-mortar in College Hill late this November or early December — the first permanent home since its inception as a vendor at Findlay Market in 2017.
Known for its build-your-own Mofongo Bar, the eatery offers a taste of co-owners Guillermo Vidal's and Arnaldo Vázquez's cultural roots; Vidal grew up in Miami, Florida and Vázquez is from Puerto Rico. Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish which means mashed roots or plantains — the base of MashRoots' popular bowls. Patrons have the ability to choose their proteins, veggies and sauces to customize their creation.
Vidal and Vázquez found inspiration to create the pop-up after a trip where they made the dish and combined it with some unique additions.
"The idea came about from a ski trip we were on where Arnaldo made Mofongo and later in that week I mixed with some Russian borscht soup. It really got (you) thinking about the versatility of the food and that it’s strange no one has fast-casualized Mofongo, given how good and addictive it is," Vidal says in an email interview.
Their creation sparked a desire to share the flavors of Latin America with the new place they call home.
"The reason we decided to start the business is because both Arnaldo and I realized we are not going back home (to Puerto Rico or Miami) — this is where our new home is — so we wanted to bring the things we missed from home here and share with our friends," Vidal says.
"We believe Cincinnati is ready to really experience the full diversity Latin America offers and we want to be ambassadors of that to the city."
After several years of hosting pop-ups at various markets, cafes, events and neighborhoods throughout the area, MashRoots is working on opening up their restaurant in Cincinnati's College Hill neighborhood.
And MashRoots will be right at home in their forthcoming storefront: The College Hill community is already brimming with culturally diverse dining options including Mexican restaurant Tortilleria Garcia, Japanese ramen house Kiki, soul food spot Rasheedah's Cafe and Chinese eatery Chung Ching.
Their brick-and-mortar will be located next to Brink Brewing at 5903 Hamilton Ave. According to Vidal, they eyed a few other neighborhoods, including Findlay Market and Oakley, but they "really fell in love with College Hill."
"There is a lot of great things happening there, the people are really supportive and CHCURC is a great organization that is flipping the neighborhood," Vidal says.
The restaurant's menu will feature the pop-up's signature Mofongo Bar, but they will be adding more roots, proteins, sauces and veggies. In addition to their bowls, they will have limited-edition Latin American dishes that will celebrate foods from regions beyond Puerto Rico and Cuba (in 2014, more than 50% of Miami's population was Cuban-American), as well as a wider range of desserts.
When it comes to their beverage program, MashRoots' bar will focus on premium rums, pre-made mixed drinks like pisco sour, caipirinhas and Cuba Libre, as well as Latin American beers.
Additionally, they will have coffee, "as you know that is key to any meal for us," Vidal says, and fresh acai and passion fruit juices.
"The idea is to bring flavors that are really staples of Latin America and tasty but people just haven’t experienced," he says.
The restaurant's dining room will seat 30 inside, and they are planning on sharing neighboring brewery Brink's patio for outdoor seating. Vidal explains that they have submitted a proposal to build their own patio behind the building.
As the pop-up grows its roots within our city, their vision remains the same — sharing and connecting with their new community.
"We really have a bigger mission to bring people together into a community as we do in our culture, always gathering around the kitchen island with great food," Vidal says. "So we can learn and experience new things and create meaningful relationships with others."
You can stop by one of their forthcoming pop-ups while you wait for their brick-and-mortar to open.
MashRoots, 5903 Hamilton Ave., College Hill, facebook.com/MashRoots.Cincy.