Cheap Eat of the Week: Empanada Mama

Written by Aurora Hinz, pictures by Sabine Smith

As a college student in NYC, having a cheap food connoisseur is essential. We all want to save money, but why sacrifice a good meal? We’re here to let you know that you’ve got options! From deals to discounts, we’ve got you covered.

LES, NEW YORK – While buffalo chicken or mac n’ cheese empanadas may not be what either of us consider authentic, they are well worth a try. There’s something so satisfying that happens after cracking open one of those little pockets. Watching the mile-high cheese pulls and steam ooze out is one of Sabine’s and my favorite pastimes. Plus, at less than $4 a piece, who could complain about crispy fried dough filled with cheese and well-seasoned meat?

We started our mid-afternoon feast off with some freshly fried plantain chips accompanied by a red salsa, a salsa verde and sour cream. The plantain chips were perfectly thin, crunchy and were seasoned with a mixture of salt and fryer grease (in the best way possible). These chips did not resemble those that sit in overly-salty, 99 cent bags in your favorite bodega. No, these were fresh; seasoned to highlight the plantain’s natural qualities and to pair perfectly with our dipping sauces. The red salsa was tangy, bright, and had sharp flavors of vinegar with chile; it was more of a Frank’s hot sauce than a salsa for chips. The salsa verde was one of Sabine’s “…top five sauces [she’s] ever had!”. It was garlicky, held a medium heat and was a perfect addition to every one of the golden plantains. The sour cream was cold and helped balance the intense tang from the red salsa.

For variety’s sake, when it came down to the real stars of the shows, our empanadas, we ordered four to eat in-house, and I also ended up getting two to-go. Sabine and I took awhile to weigh our options, because with over fifty different flavors and 3 kinds of dough, it turns into a very serious situation. You want to make sure you choose the right ones – and for us indecisive gals, we admittedly annoyed our waitress with many questions. In the end we ordered a cheese empanada, a huevos pericos, a mac n’ cheese and a spicy chicken.

The cheese empanada is a classic. Sabine and I made regular runs to another empanada place called Lime Jungle near F.I.T., strictly for their cheese empanadas. Sabine says that cheese empanadas are really just “…bigger, better mozzarella sticks.” To which I say, sorry to burst your bubble, Italian food. If you need further proof of the culinary blessing that is a cheese empanada, please see the reaction photo featuring an actual cheese pull bigger than Sabine’s head. The huevos pericos empanada was filled with scrambled eggs, tomatoes, and scallions. While it was fairly plain on its own, tasting basically like an omelette, a little dip in the red salsa went a long way. This little pocket gushed steam as soon as we cracked it open and was a surprisingly light and refreshing contrast from the other dense empanadas we had ordered.

Up next was the spicy chicken empanada. Inside it’s warm shell was hearty pieces of chicken breast marinated in mama’s special picante sauce. The spice was not overpowering, but was fragrant and enhanced the flavor of both the dough and the chicken. The marinade also had a hint of tomato which was a nice contrast from the spices and the meat and offered more depth. The mac n’ cheese empanada has the mac, a creamy cheese sauce, and bits of chewy, smoky bacon pieces. You can tell that this one is more of a novelty flavor because it is relatively unbalanced and starchy. All the other empanadas had a perfect dough to filling ratio, offering the perfect chicken-skin-like crunch with every bite. Between the pasta, the dough, the cheese and the bacon, it was  more heavy on the oil and was more chewy than the rest. There was a smoky flavor that seeped into the cheese sauce and the dough from the bacon that – *warning* – may induce heavy breathing and salivating. The flavor is what saved this empanada from being a bit too novelty for my taste.

If anyone you know is looking for a cheat, quick bite in either Hell’s Kitchen or the Lower East Side point them in the direction of Empanada Mama. We recommended coming by during one of their happy hours, either daily or brunch. The fact that this establishment is open 24 hours and delivers 24 hours is a saving grace after a night out, when all you know you want is lots of cheese and fried dough.

Here are the facts:

Address: Two Locations

LES: 95 Allen Street BTWN Broome & Delancey

Hell’s Kitchen: 765 9th ave. BTWN 51 and 52

Vegan/Vegetarian Options – YES – They have vegetarian options. Inquire about vegan choices if needed!

Delivery Options? –  YES – They deliver 24 hours a day and do catering as well! Check out their website to learn more

Easy to Find? – YES – The LES location we visited was located on a pretty busy street. They have plenty of signage to make up for the external commotion.

Food Safety Grade – A, this place is 100% guaranteed tiptop food safe and sanitary!