Miguel Villalobos has a degree in architecture, but he has never practiced as an architect. He fell in love with photography and 8 years ago founded Buena Mesa, a quarterly magazine dedicated to promoting the restaurant industry in Puerto Rico. He takes all the photos, the mouthwatering kind that drive you to the best table to sample the featured dish. He and his wife, Elisa Liberman, have now started Mama Pacha, a vegan restaurant in Hato Rey. Miguel is an entrepreneur.
“When I was studying architecture, I was an assistant to commercial photographers, this was before digital photography. I learned everything related to commercial photography from working with clients of advertising agencies to developing slide films for large format cameras, that was when I thought I wanted to do that for the rest of my life; but I had to finish my studies,” said Villalobos.
In 2011, after being a freelance photographer for more than 15 years, Miguel wanted to reinvent himself by creating a magazine because the photography work was scarce. He founded Buena Mesa with the knowledge that he had acquired as a food photographer, designer and freelance photographer for other publications.
Miguel had intended to open a pizzeria or burger restaurant, but he learned from his doctor that he had developed health conditions caused by the poor diet he’d had while leading a stressful life publishing a magazine. His doctor recommended a vegan diet and he lost more than 20 pounds. His health conditions disappeared.
He and Elisa had always enjoyed cooking at home and they turned traditional Puerto Rican recipes into vegan dishes. They decided to create a vegan restaurant offering the dishes they cooked at home. Elisa chose the restaurant’s name, Mama Pacha, which is Pachamama inverted. It means the highest divinity of the indigenous people of the Andes. The name Pachamama is translated into English as Mother Earth.
Elisa is the food stylist for the pictures Miguel uses in ad campaigns. She designs the daily menu at Mama Pacha. Her passion is cooking.
The menu sometimes sounds like that of a comfort food restaurant; meatloaf, soup, cheesecake, but there is no meat to be found, no sugar in any dish, only natural ingredients.
Mama Pacha makes meatloaf with red beans, potatoes and natural seasoning topped with an Argentinian chimichurri sauce. His veggie burger ingredients are chickpeas and beans seasoned with paprika, onions and garlic. Potato flour is the base of his homemade veggie burger buns. His cheesecake has the consistency of your mother’s homemade cheesecake and is created with almonds, dates and cashews, topped with sliced fresh strawberries and agave syrup. Miguel does not disclose all of his natural ingredients. If you crave recipes, Miguel publishes them in Buena Mesa.
Mama Pacha operates on Domenech avenue in Hato Rey. The small location seats just 19 customers at 7 different tables. The smallness gives Miguel and Elisa the freedom to try new dishes. They do not have paper menu, choosing instead to display a large chalkboard that lists the daily menu. Mama Pacha currently opens for lunch but Miguel is hoping to open for breakfast soon.
With all of this, Miguel still has time to sail on the weekends on his 33’ sloop out of Puerto Del Rey Marina in Fajardo. Sailing is his freedom, his escape. He discovered sailing when he was on a vodka photoshoot aboard a sailboat headed toward Icacos. He felt the boat move only with the wind, no engine noise or diesel smell, and he found strength in the peace and tranquility of the sound of the water. Sailing has become Miguel’s way to connect with nature.
Mama Pacha opens Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is located at 271 Domenech Ave. in Hato Rey.