I have an editorial internship at a magazine in NYC for the summer, so I’ll be cooking in my kitchenette here, exploring the exciting world of toaster ovens and hotplates. I will also most definitely be exploring the New York food scene.
Last night, my friend Anna introduced me to Empanada Mama in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. While it was once one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Manhattan, it’s now cleaned up and much safer. Example: on my walk home from dinner, I was ambushed by a sidewalk acapella group serenading pedestrians with classic love songs. I love this city.
Empanada Mama is, as Anna and I discussed, the Ugly Betty of the block. Or would be the Ugly Betty if America Fererra weren’t actually gorgeous. It wears its flashy colors proudly, knowing it stands out from the other restaurants on the block, and knowing that that’s a good thing. It’s got personality. Spunk. Chutzpah. It knows who it is. It’s a small, cozy restaurant that’s as long as a train car and only a bit wider. The menu focuses on its two specialities: sangria (red or white) and three types of empanadas. The empanadas are either made of wheat flour (fried or baked) or corn.
The pitchers of sangria are…generously portioned. We got a small pitcher of white sangria, which had about 8 glasses worth floating around amongst chunks of cold ice and sweet crunchy red grape and orange slices. Served in tall root beer float glasses, we made sure to scoop out every last piece of fruit with long silver spoons. The white sangria was sweet but not saccharine and complemented the warm, slightly spicy flavors of the empanadas.
There is an entire page of both traditional and non-traditional empanadas on the menu. I chose one baked wheat empanada with mushrooms and onions, and one made with a corn shell and stuffed with vegetables and potato. The corn empanada was the best of the two by far. The crunchy, thick corn exterior was like a mixture of cornbread and a corn tortilla. Crispy on the outside and thick and soft inside.
This funky restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen is a great respite from restaurants trying to be everything to everyone. You know what you’re getting here. I can’t guarantee your company will be as much fun as mine, but I can guarantee that after a pitcher of sangria, you’ll think they are.
763 9th Ave # 1
(9th Ave between 51st and 52nd)
New York, NY 10019