I've mentioned Empanada Mama on Scoboco before, and how it's one of my favorite Quick Bite places in town, either for an on-the-go snack (empanadas make excellent ambling food), an inexpensive sit-down lunch, or a fun, tasty pre-theater dinner, such as the one I had with Mom, Debbie and Erika in April before The Year of Magical Thinking.
Anyway, I was reminded again last Saturday how much I (and my daughters) like this place, when the three of us squeezed in a meal between the MoMA and a movie. On this day I wandered a bit across the menu and tasted disappointment, but if you stick to any of the over 30 varieties of empanadas—wheat flour or corn, fried or baked, savory or sweet—you're pretty much guaranteed happiness.
For example, the Broccoli and Cheese Corn Flour Empanada: Co and I get this every time, unable to resist the sweetness of the corn, the salty cheese, the firm broccoli. Co also loves the lively Cuban, on Wheat, which houses the usual ham, pork and cheese. The Reggaeton is delicious (roast pork, sofrito, yellow rice, peas) as is the Cheese Steak, and the Brasil (ground beef with onions, peppers, olives and potatoes), and the Pernil (spicy shredded pork), and the Chorizo.
Bo tried the Pizza for the first time, and devoured it, declaring a new favorite. Even the garlic-laden Viagra (shrimp, scallops and crab), which I had in April, is so good that it's almost worth the discomfort of those around you for the rest of the night. For dessert we've enjoyed the Guava and Cheese, the Figs, Caramel and Cheese, and the Belgian Milk Chocolate with Banana. Obviously, these are not your empanadas of yore... but if you purists out there can stomach a few cutesy names and Hot-Pocket-esque combinations, you're in for a treat.
Like I said, they do serve other dishes here, too, but I'm not sure it's worth the risk. In April my Chicken Arepa was great; in June, tired and stale. But the worst mistake in my dozen or so visits has to be Saturday's Italian Parsley Salad, which, for $6.95, was basically exactly that: a mountain of parsley, getting no support from the scattered grains of bulghur wheat nor from the alleged lemon and oil dressing. Stick to the right side of the menu, then, and you'll do fine.
Empanada Mama is on Ninth Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets, a short (10- to 15-minute) walk to most Broadway theaters. Apparently there are other locations in Queens, where co-owners Socrates Nanas and Javier Garcia grew up, but I've never been.