In Fishtown, Lady Pastelio is opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant

In Fishtown, Lady Pastelio is opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant

Amaryllis Rivera Nasar, who goes by Amy, is a Philadelphia-native Boricua known for her pastelillo-infused food pop-ups. For the uninitiated, pastelillos are crunchy Puerto Rican-style sweets with flavors like guava barbecue and spicy ground pork. It offers traditional fillings like shredded chicken or beef, but its new flavor combinations, including vegetarian options like soy chorizo ​​and potato, set it apart.

We meet in La Isla for the first time after networking in Pennsylvania as expatriates (Puerto Ricans who live outside the archipelago) and when I arrive, I see her carrying a brown bag of pancakes. The first thing she says as she greets me is, “I hope you're hungry!”

She's in Puerto Rico on a mission — to get inspiration for her latest endeavor, Amy's Pastelillos Puerto Rican Kitchen. The takeout restaurant is scheduled to open March 7 at 2001 Memphis Ave. in Fishtown. Inspired by the colorful streets of Old San Juan, the corner spot is impossible to miss with its bright pink and white facade.

Its signature pastelillo will be on the opening menu with fillings like bacalao guisado (cooked cod), truffle mushrooms and cheese. You can also expect comforting dishes like bolito, a bowl of cooked chicken served with rice, fried plantains, and salad. Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike can enjoy the nachos with pineapple, pico, jalapeño, cilantro, mayonnaise ketchup, and Puerto Rican-style La Barchita hot sauce.

In a city with one of the largest communities of Puerto Ricans outside the island and a large Latino population, her cooking resonates with locals, who often share memories of their homeland with Rivera Nasar.

“My customers have become friends. It's humbling. I'm grateful to them for coming with kind words, stories and laughs. I've heard so many stories about how important food is to our culture and our families,” Rivera-Nasar said.

Amy Pastelillos was born after Rivera Nasar left a marketing career to become a full-time mother. Months after giving birth to her second daughter, she began selling pastelillos and never returned to corporate life. “I lost my mother and I was trying to cope with my grief. (Cooking) became a way for me to find myself again, and remember my mother, who was a chef a long time ago,” Rivera Nasar said.

Unfortunately, she has no written recipes from her mother. But through trial and error, she pieces it together and writes it for her children and nephews in hopes of honoring her sazon and, most important of all, to keep her mother's memory alive.

She remembers the nights she would leaf through cookbooks and test recipes with her family. Encouragement from her husband led her to ask one of the owners of Garage Fishtown if she could show up at their bar for one night. People kept asking her to come back but she wasn't ready to commit to building a business.

“It was a hustle and I dealt with it that way. When I was growing up, you always had your sorrelito soup and your pastelillo lady, so I thought, 'Let me sell them on the side,'” Rivera-Nasar recalled.

The turning point was when an FYI Philly reporter approached her. On the day the interview aired, she recalls being bedridden due to the coronavirus and losing her sense of taste and smell, all while her phone was filling up with messages. She panicked. “If he doesn't come back, how will I cook?” Rivera Nasar said.

Pastelillo is no longer considered a hustle. After several collaborations, residencies at the Mural City Cellars taproom, and a booth at Christmas Village, the business began to grow. She has hired staff and plans to use the kitchen to prepare for catering and events. However, she is keen on being a mother first and foremost.

The restaurant will be open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., a schedule that allows it to maintain some of the flexibility of the pop-up model. “I'm growing at the same rate as my kids are growing. I don't want to be tied down to a traditional restaurant and never come home,” Rivera-Nasar said.

Pastelillo is her specialty, but she has expanded her business to include sopa de video (chicken noodle soup), pastelón (banana lasagna), and more. Lately, she's been trying to recreate her mother's soup, a soup made with banana fritters.

“It was my family's comfort food. I was trying to make it following nostalgic flavors. It was fun but also emotional and frustrating to get right. I think of my mom,” Rivera-Nasar said.

Her food isn't necessarily about technique, it's about how you feel. For many Puerto Ricans who have been away from home for a long time, it sparks nostalgia for family home cooking – a meaningful expression of who we are and where we come from.

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