Hungry Like the Wolf

Why we felt right at home at Loba in MiMo

As with most first-time restaurateurs, Jessica Sanchez's first project, Loba, is a highly personal undertaking.

Disillusioned, the 28-year-old MBA quit her 9 to 5 financial analyst gig, and, with her parents' guidance (previous owners of Colombian chain Patacon) and a bit of DYI ingenuity, she built her dream in the form of a neighborhood gastropub in MiMo.

Loba—or "she-wolf," which Sanchez chose to describe herself as a fighter and a fearless hunter—is decked out with her own belongings. There are old Iyka cameras, records and a collection of literature classics lining the wooden shelf built by Sanchez and her father. The thick treated-wood tables and animal skin hanging lamps, on the other hand, she scored at a restaurant auction. "They're traditional Colombian, so I wouldn't have been able to import them," Sanchez says. She has even taken the step of giving others a shot at their dream, hiring students "looking to get their hands dirty in the business" as servers.

On a recent night, the vibe in the restaurant matched its eclectic décor: A table of three executives speaking Spanish laughed animatedly over a bottle of the Malbec and a plate of citrus ceviche with homemade crispy plantains ($12). At a nearby two-seater, a mother observed as her kid chowed down with gusto on the marinated avocados and rice from the patacón ($27)—a flat, golden, fried plantain leaf accompanied by a platter of rib eye slices, pork belly, pico de gallo, chimichurri, and momma Libia Sanchez's hot sauce, whose recipe, along with the plantains', she won't disclose—not even to her own daughter.

The rest of the Latin-and-Southern-influenced menu is composed of humbler dishes that are perfect for sharing. The Ode to Wilbur, an 18-hour sous vided pork belly ($14), has an unexpected kick from thin slices of pickled jalapeño sprinkled over a bed of sweet squash purée. Celery relish and crisp hominy add some nice crunch to grilled octopus dish ($14). But don't get too attached; the menu is seasonal and Sanchez plans on changing it accordingly.

The staff is inexperienced but well-meaning. A few hiccups of service and a delayed check didn't bother us; when it was delivered to our table, it arrived bookmarked in between the pages of Love in the Time of Cholera. Fitting for a labor of love.