(Maiz-wrapped cheese empanada at Mama's Empanadas)
Mama's Empanadas (32-41 Steinway)
Open Daily from 11AM-11PM (free delivery)
When it's 2 o'clock in the afternoon on Steinway and there's a line to the door and every seat is taken with hungry customers hovering over finishing tables like starving vultures, it can only mean one of two things: 1) either the food is exceptional, or 2) it's extremely affordable. It just so happens that Mama's Empanadas (not to be confused with the popular Manhattan hot pocket shop, Empanada Mama) falls under both categories.
Despite the fact that the menu lures in non-Latin lovers with nontraditional fillings like pepperoni pizza and even a Greek version with mozzarella, feta, and spinach--the vast majority of the clientele were Hispanic, which is always a good sign that something is being cooked right in the kitchen.
The stuffed pastries are available wrapped in maiz (corn-flour).
They can also be ordered in wheat-flour dough, and either fried or baked.
Classic beef, chicken, or cheese empanadas are also available "cocktail" size, like little sliders, and only 80 cents a piece! The full-sized empanadas range from $1.30 to $1.75.
Topping the menu at a whopping $2.45 is a shrimp-scallop-crabmeat empanada called the Biagra (yes, the counter attendant giggled when I ordered it.)
Wacky, but delicious was the mac & cheese empanada ($1.60). We also really enjoyed the cheese steak with juicy strips of beef, peppers, onions, and creamy cheddar.
They even offer a selection of dessert empanadas (including an "Elvis" with peanut butter and bananas), and the USA (apples and cinnamon with a dollop of ice cream and warm caramel) was one of the tastiest apple turnovers I've enjoyed in a long time, almost like an apple dumpling from the state fair.
I recommend trying each of the preparations. Each empanada is made fresh, and none were greasy at all. The maiz pockets had a super crunch followed by a more chewy textures inside, while the wheat-flour baked tasted like a pie crust, and fried tasted like a crispy tortilla. Green and red salsas are available by request, as well as spicy mayo for dipping.
Several imported sodas are available, as well as yogurt shakes and mixed fruit cocktails. They also offer arepas (stuffed corn cakes) and a selection of full dinner items, such as grilled steaks and plantains.
A value menu offers some pretty good specials like 2 empanadas & a drink for $3.15, or family size with 24 empanadas & a 2-liter for $31.20.
The dining area is clean and neat, and the service was extremely friendly (and fluently bilingual). Only open a few weeks, it already seems to be a huge hit. And for street snacks this tasty at a price so affordable, I have a feeling it's gonna be a longstanding fixture. Hopefully it will become 24 hours like its other location in Jackson Heights (locations also in Sunnyside and Elmhurst, by the Queen's Center Mall).