Today is a very special day on the national food days blog. IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!! 😀 I’m coming back into Brooklyn to celebrate with my family (and my choice of restaurant for my birthday dinner was directly influenced by my research for this blog! Score!) I hope everyone else is having a wonderful Easter, a meaningful Passover, and a pretty, happy Sunday in spring. 😀
I may even try out some of the places I’ve outlined for today–National Empanada Day. You honestly can’t go wrong with an empanada: a Latin American staple, it’s a pastry shell stuffed with meat, cheese, and any other goodness you can imagine, and then baked or deep fried. It always amazes me that, no matter where in the world you may look or what cultures you may encounter, nearly every culinary culture on the globe has a staple food product where you stuff pastry with filling and fry it. It gives me hope for the world 😉 Originating in Portugal and migrating to the Americas with Iberian colonization, the empanada is a hugely popular dish for its ease of use and the versatility it provides (you can literally stuff it with anything!) And, obviously, the large Hispanic population in New York City means you can find a lot of really excellent empanadas all around the city, with different spices, flavorings, and regional tastes in every borough. It’s more than likely you’ll find an empanada that fits you, no matter what you like!
And that’s no truer than at Empanada Mama on 9th Avenue in Manhattan. A Colombian-based empanada restaurant boasts way more than shredded beef and spicy chicken in their dough pockets: they’ve got an empanada for virtually any taste or craving that may cross your mind, from Polish kielbasa to Hawaiian pineapples and even an American cheeseburger empanada. Their dessert empanadas (deep-fried sweets, how can you go wrong) are also a rare, special breed, like the fig and caramel empanada that melts inside the empanada as it’s cooked. They also offer a slew of vegetarian fillings and both whole wheat and corn pockets for your empanada, so you can pretend your lunch is marginally healthy as you chow down 😉 The variety alone would get Empanada Mama on the empanada map today, but their prices–$2.75 for one, which makes for a hearty Midtown Manhattan meal for less than $10–and their flavor make this place a must-see (and must-eat!) The most raved-about variety here is the spicy chicken, but if you’re feeling adventurous, check out some of their “international” empanadas–like the Greek spanakopita empanada!
763 9th Ave (between 51st St & 52nd St)
“With restraint, I stuck to my goal and ordered shredded chicken with a baked corn flour shell and a shredded beef in a fried wheat flour casing. Even though the beef one was fried, it didn’t taste oily like many other fried empanadas. It remained flaky, and absorbed the marinated beef’s spices. The chicken one was enhanced by the sweet corn casing that brought out the flavor of the chicken, peas, and carrots, which filled the pastry to the maximum. Both had a nice balance of spice and texture, though I found the chicken a bit dry. Quick fix: dunking it into the complementary spicy jalapeño sauce.”–Serious Eats
“The menu of more than forty empanadas—stuffed and sealed wheat- or corn-based shells—is designed to hit a nostalgic nerve. Whatever flavors you like, you can expect them here, wrapped in a warm, yielding pocket: Greek (spinach pie), Cuban (ham, pork, and cheese), Polish (kielbasa and sauerkraut), Hawaiian (ham, cheese, and pineapple), Italian (sausage, peppers, and onions), American (cheeseburger). Though the three different doughs—fried wheat flour, fried corn flour, and baked wheat flour—taste equally neutral, the corn flour patty has a great crunch.”–New York Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“There’s nothing like fried dough stuffed with an oh-so-good melody of yummy ingredients to satiate your appetite and make your taste buds smile. Empanada Mama delivers a great variety of these crisp pockets of deliciousness with fillings ranging from the traditional blends of Latino flavors to an innovative beef and chicken teriyaki combination.”–Joan R.
“Now onto the main attraction: the empanadas. My favorite was the Brasil – that beef had so much kick to it, I dared not add any of the side spicy sauce they supplied. The pork in the Reggaeton was nice and moist, and the spicy chicken had a good flavor, but I decided to add some of the green spicy sauce to bump it up a notch (damn, that sauce was DELICIOUS).”–Kristine R.
But, with such a hot-button food as an empanada, hailing from so many different locales, you will always get an argument as to where to find the “best” in New York City. Empanada Mama might be the favorite among trendy twentysomethings near the Theater District, but La Nueva Bakery in Jackson Heights is where Queens residents go for their empanada fix. A bakery specializing in Argentinian-style empanadas, this small, local gem has some of the best empanadas in the borough, and has become a true hole-in-the-wall hangout for the neighborhood. It has yet to be discovered by critics and food blogs (well, except for this one…. :-P) so get there before it’s overrun with foodies looking for the Next Big Thing. Try the cheese empanadas here, with tons of gooey, delicious cheesy filling, freshly baked–not fried–throughout the day.
La Nueva Bakery
86-10 37th Ave, Jackson Heights
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The cheese empanada is by far the stand out. I’m not sure what cheese they use exactly, but they are very generous with it & flavor it with sauteed peppers. It’s oozy & delicious. Another favorite: the spinach & egg. Again, very generous with the filling. My sister is a a huge fan of the chicken empanada, but I’ve yet to get her to share one with me, so I can’t vouch for it.”–Melissa B.
“The best part is their empanadas and breads. The empanadas taste fresh and they don’t use the corn wrapping, so it’s more bread like and lighter. The insides taste fresh in a way that would make me think that that’s how my columbian grandmother would make them if I had one. But my grandmother is Israeli, so she definitely doesn’t know how to make empanadas. And that is why this is where I would come and get them instead.”–Heather C.
While I haven’t given much blogtime to them, it’s tough not to notice how food trucks have really changed the scope of what we consider “gourmet” and quality food in New York City. Once just the realm of mystery street meat and Nuts 4 Nuts stalls, street food vending has become a real revolution, especially with the introduction of social media. And with such a traditional, wholesome, and self-contained food like the empanada on National Empanada Day, I had to highlight a great empanada food truck! Outside of the Atlantic Terminal right in the middle of the new
monstrosity Barclay Center sits a food stall that’s been around far longer than the stadium, and possibly even the terminal itself. Cesar’s Empanadas has the staying power not because of its prime real estate–though I’m sure that helps–but for their quality, authentic Argentinian empanadas, baked right in the truck and served all day and night. For only $2.00 you can get their specialty, a beef and spinach empanada, cooked to perfection. Once the center is ready for operation (and the Nets become a team that people will actually pay to watch…), I’m sure Cesar’s will get the full recognition the empanadas deserve.
Intersection of Hanson & Ashland Places, Atlantic Terminal
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Always there. Always delicious. Always hits the spot. $2-3 for a legit empanada is such a steal. Perfectly sized, warm, toasty, crispy, bubbly, deep fried (or baked) outer shell hides about 15 different kinds of fillings from cheese, to sweet plantains, to beef, to shrimp… and many more. I always get the mozzarella empanada–I like it quick and simple.”–Elvir C.
“Warm comforting pockets of moist savory meat, Cesar’s empanadas makes me happy…Very happy. After a long dismal day ripe with stress and anxiety, nothing gives me a moment of delicious tranquility than a crisp empanada. After a great day i like to reward myself with a tasty empanada. Cesar’s Empanadas will see you through the worst and best of times. For $2 you choose among a variety of fried yummy treats. The meat filling, whether it be chicken or beef, is ALWAYS fresh, moist, and seasoned delicately. The chicken empanadas are unbelievably succulent, it’s juices never failing to run down my mouth. The beef is very tasty, never dry and never bland.”–Joan R.
So go get a delicious empanada at one of these fine establishments, or anywhere that’s close to you–empanadas are everywhere! And have one for me for my birthday! 😀
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!