Cafe Clave is Your UCity stop for Baked Empanadas

This week Profiled Luncher Lauren went to check out the empanadas at Cafe Clave in University City.

There’s almost nothing I love more than a good empanada. I’ve had Cafe Cláve on my to do list ever since its mention in Daily Candy over two years ago, but I’ve tried my best to avoid empanadas in an effort to protect my waistline. After reading that the cafe’s empanadas were actually baked and not fried, I decided to give them a try.

Cafe Cláve is a cuban coffee shop on Locust street between 43rd and 44th, a great block that also boasts Koch’s Deli, a favorite spot for some of the biggest and best sandwiches in Philly. Open in 2003/2004, the spot changed hands to the Green Line Cafe, but returned to its original concept in October of 2008. I stopped by this week for lunch and was really impressed with the decorated interior and community vibe. The friendly server was chatting with many of the patrons and I heard her ask a few times if they wanted “the usual.” The crowd was a good mix of people who were hanging out for lunch and students doing work. For those looking to work on their laptops, the cafe has an outlet at every table.

I ordered a green tea ($2.50) and split a Half Note Panini ($6), a chicken empanada, and a beef empanada ($3 each). One thing to note is that Cláve is cash only. The Half Panini (or bocadillo) was the only vegetarian sandwich option of the day and was filled with mozzarella, basil, tomato, and roasted peppers. I enjoyed the crunch of the bread, but otherwise the sandwich was not particularly memorable. I think it would have benefitted from a flavorful spread or a larger portion of vegetables. The sandwich was relatively small and came with few Lay’s potato chips (or baby carrots) on the side. For $6, I don’t think this is the best value the cafe has to offer.

On the other hand, the empanadas were superb. Their flaky crust was covered in sesame seeds and did not suffer from not being fried. If anything, the baked crust helped give the empanadas a light and airy texture. They came with a side of sauce which the server described as a vinaigrette with oil and herbs.The ground beef empanada was a hit and worked really well with the sauce. It included a small amount capers, not a personal favorite of mine,  and onions as well as a few spices that I couldn’t identify. I believe there were pieces of grape leaves and something (maybe tomato?) that contributed a hint of sweetness.

While beef empanadas are usually my favorite, I actually preferred the chicken this time. The chicken filling included herbs and tomatoes. This empanada was so moist that it reminded me of the roasted chicken entree at Mémé. It did not require the sauce and was great on its own.

Overall, I really enjoyed Cafe Cláve and will definitely be making it a stop on my rotation of study spots. I would suggest two empanadas and a drink for a filling lunch (approximately $8.50 – $9.50). Next time, I look forward to trying the Cuban sandwich, Chocolate Truffle Bundt Cake, the Jewish Apple Cake, and the black bean empanada.

THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)

  • Delicious empanadas
  • Great atmosphere for eating or studying
  • Large drink and baked good menu

THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • Sandwiches are not the best value
  • Limited menu for meals

Cafe Clave, 4305 Locust St (btw 43rd and 445th) 215 386-3436


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