Empanada Mama is a teeny-tiny, brightly decorated restaurant devoted to one thing, and one thing alone: the fried, half-moon turnover known as the empanada.
Empanada Mama is like the dive bar of eateries: It's slightly gaudy, with a hole-in-the-wall appeal that doesn't detract from its enjoyment, it adds to it. Especially because it's unbelievably cheap, delicious, and open twenty four hours. A good empanada becomes earth-shatteringly awesome when consumed at 3 a.m. Trust us, we speak from experience.
Truly though, Empanada Mama may be far from fancy, but it is a place like no other, with a menu of over 40 empanadas, all delicious in their own way, and every one under $3. Can't-misses include the Reggaeton ($2.80), filled with roast pork, peas, and Puerto Rican-style sofrito rice, and the Brazil ($2.80), which has ground beef, olives, sauteed onions, and potatoes encased in a perfectly fried shell. Even strange-sounding combinations like the Cheesesteak empanada ($2.80), a wheat flour casing with skirt steak and mozzarella cheese, score big. These are not puny, bite-sized empanadas either, each is heartily-filled and utterly satisfying.
If you want to veer off the beaten empanada path, try an Arepa ($5.25), a thick corn tortilla that's a staple in South America, but a standout here. And the guacamole ($6.95), which comes with crunchy plantain chips and two lively salsas, makes for a supreme late-night snack.
As you would expect, a place like this is not without its devotees. Every night of the week, every hour of the night, you can face excruicating waits. But being that each empanada comes in a neatly labeled, little white bag, there is no shame in pulling a grab-and-go operation when the empanada urge strikes.