Abari Game Bar is home to Casa CLT, Charlotte’s first Puerto Rican food truck

 By Stephanie Hoyt

September 6, 2017 

There’s a new food truck in Noda stationed outside Abari Game Bar. Casa CLT has made its debut and is featuring Puerto Rican cuisine that is prepared with care and served pronto from Casa CLT’s mobile kitchen. Owners Katia Ramírez and Zach Pulliam created a menu listing a variety of mouthwatering dishes built upon Hispanic arepas, handmade sides and fresh-squeezed fruit juices. Food has always been personal to Ramírez and she uses it as a way to communicate her story. When a diner tastes her food, they taste the flavors of her past.

Chef and co owner of Casa CLT, Katia Ramírez. Photo by Brandon W. Sabi

Katia’s culinary education is not unlike many other chefs in Charlotte. She graduated from Johnson and Wales with an Associate’s Degree in culinary arts. Beginning as a pastry chef at The Westin, she followed her passion for traveling and learning about different cultures. In 2011, Ramírez moved to New York City, where she worked in several prominent restaurants including Picholine, a Michelin star French restaurant. She progressed from cold appetizers to hot ones, mostly pastas, and then to the fish station. Along the way she learned the operational practices employed in the kitchens of fine dining establishments.

After five years in the Big Apple, Ramírez was ready for her next adventure: Seville, Spain. In España, Ramírez chose to experience the fast-paced environments of wine and tapas bars. At Tradevo, she would handle, filet and season fresh fish caught off the Spanish coast. During her time there, she quickly absorbed the culture and realized that good food should be available to everyone, regardless of age, background or socio economic status.

Photo by Brandon W. Sabi

Ramírez returned to New York City, working this time at Blue Hill, a farm-to-table restaurant in Greenwich Village. At Blue Hill, guests choose a four- or six-course meal from tasting menus inspired by that week’s harvest at local farms. Blue Hill was an eye-opening opportunity for Ramírez who, as a young cook, contributed at events such as Blue Hill’s pop-up, wastED, where the menu featured meals using overlooked byproducts of the food system like vegetable pulp and kale ribs. Shortly after moving back to NYC, two friends, John Alexopoulos and Claudio Jose Peralta, from Picholine, asked Ramírez to become head chef at Xarello, their new Mediterranean restaurant on Long Island. Ramírez accepted and learned what it takes to open a brand new restaurant. After a year, she burnt out and decided to escape from the fine dining scene. She moved back to Charlotte, took a break from cooking and took a position at the Latino Community credit union. She enjoyed her time there helping immigrants and fellow Latinos learn, organize and manage their finances.

Ramírez soon realized she belonged in a kitchen but, this time, she had her own concept in mind. She would pursue something smaller, after her history in kitchens serving large dining rooms. Being from Puerto Rico, she had always loved street food and wanted to create flavors that reminded her of home. Ramírez shared her idea with friends and one day she opened up her Facebook to find a message from mutual friend Zach Pulliam. Pulliam was interested in adding something food-related to his gaming bar, Abari, and Ramírez’ Latin street food truck seemed the perfect complement. After a casual business meeting, Pulliam quickly supported her concept and the Casa CLT food truck was born!

Photo by Brandon W. Sabi

​Casa’s menu focuses on arepas, which are a type of food made of ground maize dough or cooked flour, prominent in the cuisine of Central America and the Caribbean. Puerto Rican arepas are a beach food, easy to hold and filled with fresh seafood. The dough can be temperamental and is made of flour, margarine, baking powder, salt and water. After visiting Puerto Rico last Christmas, Ramírez decided on a menu that reminds her of the beach and her home on the island. Everything is handmade and the arepas are all cooked in the traditional fashion. While she wanted to create a fast, portable street food, Ramírez also believes that fast food should be prepared with quality. That is why nothing on the menu of Casa CLT comes from a box or is pre-made.  

While most of the menu is traditional Puerto Rican food, some items were inspired by Ramírez’ experiences during her many travels. The menu item La Playera is filled with shrimp in a creole sauce with contrasting sweet peppers and plantains that was inspired by the food carts on the beaches in Puerto Rico. La Tripleta is a twist on a traditional Puerto Rican sandwich with chicken, ham, skirt steak, sautéed onion and potato stix stuffed in a light and fluffy arepa. I had the pleasure of devouring a Lechon Asado, a pulled pork arepa. The pork is made in the traditional Puerto Rican style, roasted for seven hours and is so tender it melts in your mouth. Pickled onions add an acidic layer to the flavorful, hand-shredded pork which is covered with sweet guava barbeque sauce. Cotija cheese adds a perfect touch of saltiness to the dish. Ramírez created La Vegana and La Mulata to show how tasty vegetarian options can be. All of the side items are indigenous to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, such as sweet plantains, fried yucca, and congri rice, a Cuban staple prevalent in Northern Puerto Rico. The menu also features freshly squeezed fruit juices, typically paired with street food in Latin America, and include flavors such as watermelon limeade (seasonal), mango and passion fruit.

Photo by Brandon W. Sabi

Ramírez is eager to bring Puerto Rican food to Charlotte. She envisions plenty of room for growth in the Charlotte food scene and is optimistic about opening a new market with Casa CLT. Ramírez truly believes in the food truck movement. She sees Charlotte as an ideal market for food trucks by having regulations that encourage entrepreneurs with licensing requirements that can be easily met. Charlotte has a big city mentality with small city prices and consumers are ready to try something different.

You can currently find Casa CLT outside Abari Game Bar in Noda. While Pulliam and Ramírez plan to perfect their food truck concept before moving throughout the city to business lots, street fairs and breweries, Abari will always be the home base for Casa CLT.

Abari Game Bar is located at 1721 North Davidson St. For more on Casa CLT, check out their Facebook page

Check out the full Casa CLT menu:

Read next: 

In this article