Indeed- Empanada Mama is a tiny, railroad cafe full of delicious eats and close-contact chatter. New Yorkers -particularly Manhattanites- often develop very creative ideas about space, because we don’t usually have any. And life goes on. We collect things, invite people over, get close- and that is the style of this little latin-flavored eatery: cozy, with a great sense of humor. The place is downright homey, except the aroma that extends from the little kitchen at the back will make your mouth water and you’ll love your neighbors more readily than usual.
The reason crowds start rolling in every night of the week around six o’clock (with crowds both before and after, this is just the peak time), is because Mama makes really soul-kindling, often cheesey, always meaty and super-convenient edibles. Empanadas, arepas, homemade cassava (filled with pork or beef), and yuca fries- everything is handheld and made to nosh. The food is hearty and beautiful, without being particularly delicate. Eat and be.
The music last Wednesday was 90’s pop, which brought me back to my childhood as readily as the new flavor of yuca fries in guacamole (a new experience) enchanted me, presently. The buzzing of people right and left was mostly about the menu: “what do we get next?” was the key phrase. People order, and order, and order some more. Four empanadas? That’s nice, but with over fifty different flavors (and a make-your-own option), you may want to go with a few friends, point to a dozen, and make use of your knife: split them up and taste the magic of diverse flavors.
Flavor and taste are clearly present, but yet another thumbs up goes to the array of textures available: cassava and arepas are both very filling and can be filled with the same things, but the soft-fried shell around chewy shredded pork and the to-the-tooth arepa are sisterly without being the same-old. You can indeed enter with a vague idea of the kind of food you want in your mouth, and every component of choice is available to you: soft or hard? Tangy or creamy? Doughy or zesty? Take your pick, mix them up, call over the delightful waitress for another round. Wash your trials (no errors) down with a sweet Colombiana soda or take a pick from their healthy hard drinks menu.
Go in and you won’t go wrong- this place is a gem of Hell’s Kitchen.
Empanada Mama 763 9th Ave. (between 51sy & 52nd Streets) 212.698.9008