You Can Get Empanadas from a Cart with No Name
You’d think that 34th and 8th would be a hotbed of vendor activity. There’s a whole southeast corner that’s solely occupied by a Duane Reade and a tree. Why it took so long for a vendor to pop up in this space is a mystery, but imagine my surprise when one Friday an empanada cart shows up. With the loss of Shachi’s Arepas, whose empanadas were amazingly done complements to their arepas and the source of many a carb-laden delicious lunch, this may well be the only fixed location where you can get your flaky goodness on a regular basis. Are they heirs to a great fried-filled-pastry dynasty or merely pretenders to the throne?
The menu is quite varied and changed seasonally with locavore and industry-certified green standards clearly at play. (Rim shot) No, really, there’s three options. Can’t miss the sign, though! I did see them setting up shop this morning at around 8:00, though, in the same spot. Maybe we’ll see a breakfast empanada option soon?
There’s a pretty big stock of empanadas, but they’re fried fresh onsite and the heat lamp is erred on the side of higher temperature to ensure they don’t moisten up too much.
$2 for any one empanada gets you greasy goodness. Not pictured: the darn near transparent underside of the paper bag from glorious grease. (Apologies to NJ Transit for any glorious grease that got onto the seat next to me, but it’s not nearly as bad as the stink of Newark Penn Station’s stairs on the Market St. entrance)
The empanadas are big and puffy. They’re well sealed and have zero bleed-out of filling. Nice and hot even after descending into Penn. Seems legit, right?
Biting into this cheese empanada was like opening a locked treasure chest to find only a few hundred thousand cruzeiros and six chicken McNuggets inside. Sure, there’s that one big chunk of cheese – cotija or some other mild white cheese – but the deceptive hugeness of the outside was deflating, to say the least. The good news is that it made one hell of a cavern to pour in the hot sauce.
The hot sauce, by the way, is some of the best I’ve ever had. Thin and pinkish from some kind of whitening component, I’m not sure what they put into it but it has a good fire kick to it on the start, with a nice moderate burn for a few minutes afterward. Either or I would very much like to buy this stuff by the jar. It was like peas and carrots how well it went with the cheese empanada.
I previously had a beef empanada and the experience of the cheese was unfortunately the same. The filling was unflavored ground beef. That’s it. Look, I’m not exactly the Empanada God but in the past whenever I’ve had a beef empanada from Shachi’s or from the amazing Raul’s Empanadas Town (just two minutes from the Morristown NJ Transit station and a must-have for a quick, cheap lunch if you’re in the area) they’ve at least been flavored. Almost like picadillo or something similar, at least with salt added. Since it’s pre-cooked before going into the empanada, there’s no reason why they can’t at least throw some Goya adobo in the mix when they brown the beef.
It’s a shame the fillings are so damn lacking, because the shells are flaky, crispy, and melt-in-your-mouth perfection. They do fry them fresh at the cart, so thank goodness for small favors.
If they improve on this formula this cart will succeed. Right now it’s kind of like early internal combustion engines – unrefined, not exactly ready for broad use – but these things could be the Cadillac of empanadas with their location and a few changes. I’m not going to tell people coming to/from Penn Station to walk from 7th to 8th to get a bite, but you could do a lot worse for a 30-second transaction to tide you over. You could do a lot better close by, though – Lunch Box and their amazing Chinese buns are but a street crossing away.
The + (What los primos empanadoras would say)
- Finally, empanadas on 8th Ave are back!
- Fresh fried and still crispy even under heat lamps!
- Hot sauce the likes of nothing else!
The – (What Shachi’s loyalists would say)
- It’s cheap for a reason and that reason is LOW ON FLAVORNESS.
- There’s next to no cheese in the cheese empanada!
- Sure would be nice to have something different in the menu.
Nameless Empanada Cart, southeast corner of 34th and 8th (in front of Duane Reade)