Downtown Lunch: Ruben's Empanadas
Midtown workers shouldn’t have all the fun, so to even the score, I’ve brought on Daniel Krieger as an official Downtown Lunch Correspondent to write up some of the tasty stuff you can get in the lower half of Manhattan. He’s a great photographer (ensuring good food porn), but more importantly he is a lover of cheap, unique and delicious eats (or as I like to call it- Midtown Lunch’ish food.)
About a month ago I was at a party in Brooklyn (represent!) and a guest from the East Village picked up a huge bag of empanadas from the East Village location of Ruben’s Empanadas. I was skeptical at first thinking they were going to taste more like fast food empanadas (aka Hot Pockets), but figured I would give them a shot. After warming them up in the oven we added them to our impromptu dinner party and I tried two different kinds. I particularly remember the spinach and tofu one with whole wheat crust. It was a perfect blend of a crunchy/doughy crust and had a nice heavy mixture of spinach and tofu on the inside. Damn they were good.
I remembered all this after the Empanada Joe hooplah earlier this week and decided to head out to one of Ruben’s six downtown locations for lunch.
The first thing I noticed was the difficulty figuring out the best lunch special. One combo comes with rice and beans and one empanada for $7.38. Another for $10 comes with 2 empanadas and a desert one. A third option is 2 emps and a small soup or salad. Sounds nice but at $11.50 that was off my downtown lunch stipend of $10.
The problem with these things is that one isn’t enough, but two and a soup might be too much for lunch (even for me). Being the neurotic mess I am I stood there starring at the menu board for 10 minutes. I think the manager thought I was slow (he may have been right, actually). The options just don’t jive with my thought process, which kinda bothered me. I wanted some greens or some soup but I wanted to sample two different ones, so in the end I went with the $10 special. I had the spinach and tofu empanada and the beef empanada and the apple for dessert.
I also tried the chimichurri sauce for an additional 50c which is chopped garlic, herbs, and parsley for you gringos who don’t speak Mamacita. The beef was an admirable effort, using onions, raisins, and a blend of spices. The chimichurri definitely helped it out.
The spinach and tofu however lacked any seasoning or salt. What happened to this batch? I was really disappointed as my memory of the one at the party was completely different. But it was the same crust, same looking filling… but not the same taste.
The dessert one isn’t really anything to discuss. The crust was delicate and flaky (everything there is baked not fried) but the inside was somewhat flavorless and not sweet at all. I felt like someone got my tastebuds drunk before I walked in there.
So I found out there are two owners to Ruben’s Empanadas, and the EVILL location was owned by the other owner. But then I found out they all get the same empanadas from the same factory in Long Island City everyday, so I’m afraid I’ll never be able to figure out the difference. But I do recommend checking out the East Village location if you’re downtown and jonesing for one of these things. Maybe that store gets a better batch? Maybe they were serving me day old versions? No I’m sure it was neither of those things, but until I figure it out, it will be the great Empanada Mystery of 09.
Ruben’s Empanadas, Multiple Locations
- 149 Church Street (btw. Chambers and Warren), 212-513-1448
- 122 1st Ave (btw. 7th + St. Marks), 212-979-0172
- 64 Fulton Street (btw. Cliff + Gold, 212-962-5330
- 77 Pearl Street (nr. Coenties Alley), 212-361-6323
- 76 Nassau Street (btw John + Fulton), 212-513-1486
- 505 Broome Street (at Watts St), 212-334-3351