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.)

Downtown Lunch: Reuben's Empanadas

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.

Downtown Lunch: Reuben's Empanadas
I’m always hesitant when a restaurant claims “authentic” or “original” or “best”

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.

Downtown Lunch: Reuben's Empanadas

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.

Downtown Lunch: Reuben's Empanadas

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.

Downtown Lunch: Reuben's Empanadas

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



  • Daniel, a lot of people will bring the hate down on you for liking Reubens but I find them tasty too. (Sentimental favorite, eating them for over 20 years). I always come back to the spicy chicken & shrimp as the favorites. You used to be able to get your drink on with these concoctions that tasted like a south-of-the-border version of Orange Whip, in papaya and mango flavor, but alas the last time I went they said the machines were no more.

  • Spicy Tofu? Argentinian?…i bloody well think not.

  • These are TERRIBLE. I do not understand how they stay in business. I find them to be dry and completely lacking in flavor, and do not ever order takeout from them.

    sorry to dissent, but far too many terrible meals from this place, working late and needing something different in the FiDi.

  • Wayne – I forgot to add that those lunch specials come with a soda or water.. thanks for reminding me (not sure about the other drinks though).

  • I associate empanadas with deep fryers. These empanadas look baked.
    Kudos for healthy but the grease makes the empanada. I love Mama’s Empanadas by Queens mall.

  • Totally agree, Ruben’s empanadas are AWFUL. Doughy, tough crust, flavorless fillings, and expensive. Never again.

    I can only vouch for (against) the pearl street location, though. Just terrible.

  • Oh joy! Another stellar selection and write up.

    Not to disparage Daniel’s talents, who is the absolute best at food porn, bar none, his choices are so pedestrian they rank right up there with the weekly food blog links. In fairness to Daniel, one wouldn’t ask Picasso to write a novel any more then ask Tolstoy to paint.

    Were it not for Mamacita’s smokin’ column one could skip Filler Friday on ML and not miss a thing.

    Zach, your site deserves better than Panda Express correspondents in a Szechaun Gournet world. Maybe if you provide some direction on selection we could tolerate the droll and, frankly oftentimes boring write ups.

    Come on dude, throw us a bone, give us something to sink our teeth into.

    This isn’t Playboy most of us come here for the articles.

  • I live downtown and can tell you from experience there aren’t a ton of cheap good spots, it’s not like midtown where the carts and crap are everywhere. WHat exactly does KeepingThem suggest as far as undiscovered gems?

  • It seems to me one could do a year’s worth of weekly columns in Chinatown alone, to say nothing of Soho, the Village, Fulton, and Tribeca. But WTF do I know? I’m in S.A.

    Suffice it to say, ML is not getting its money’s worth for whatever Zach’s not paying.

  • The East Village one sucks also. The pastry shell is bready (not flaky) and the filling is mushy. Anybody know of a decent empanada place in Manhattan?

  • Keeping Them – if you’re in S.A. then you don’t really know I guess? This downtown section has about 20 different posts of Chinatown restaurants since it started, included among them some amazing spots. This isn’t the first week it was written. Also the feature tries to stay pretty south in Manhattan which is why the Village isn’t really covered.

    And pretty much every worthwhile cheap eats restaurant in Tribeca has already been posted about here as well..but thanks for the critique

  • I think Daniel does an amazing job. Not every place you review needs to be a thumbs up. It’s good to check out places and give people a heads up that they are not that great. That’s par for the course. BTW emapanada’s are Always worth checking out… kinda like tamales :-)

  • Well Said E.C.!

  • Anybody who’s been in Argentina knows that Ruben’s are not authentic empanadas. They are terrible.

    God how I miss BA. I need an alfajor!

  • These ‘nadas would be a thousand times better if he didn’t stick them in the microwave to heat them. I know it’s faster, but nuking them turns the crust into a soggy mess. Bring back 7th Avenue’s early 90s winner, Empanada Oven!

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