While growing up in Bensonhurst, my family made traditional baked Argentinian empanadas, and like most kids, I enjoyed whatever my mom gave me - especially when it came to meat-filled dough pockets. These days, it’s easy to find almost every variety of empanada around New York as the city experiences an empanada renaissance with a huge mix of traditional and updated versions to try.
When selecting your empanadas, you may notice the variations of the braided seal of a baked empanada. This is called the “repulgue” and it’s a fancy term for the fold used by restaurants and empanada makers to differentiate the fillings and flavors
For many, chicken, pork, beef, or vegetable-filled empanadas are a satisfying appetizer and can sometimes be a complete meal depending on their size and filling. Most Latin American countries - including Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic - each have their own style, which also differs by region. These can range from traditional baked to deep-fried and sweet dessert empanadas, some of which are made with a wheat-based dough while others use corn.
While there are plenty of great spots to choose from, these are my nine favorites.
Shelter looks and feels like a modern, rustic lodge that’s always busy - both inside and outside. The open wood-fire grill serves double duty for Neapolitan pizza and the oven-baked Argentinian empanadas, which gives them a nice char and an earthier flavor. The Humita with sweet corn, scallion, nutmeg, and bechamel is my favorite, but the ham and cheese and beef (sirloin, onion, hard-boiled egg, scallions, cumin, and paprika) are also good choices. You can try all three at this North Williamsburg spot for $18.
This women-owned restaurant in Greenwood Heights uses old family recipes from Colombia to deliver basically every type of savory and flavorful empanada you can imagine - they make fried and baked versions with both wheat and corn-based crusts, along with dessert empanadas. At $3.80 a crunchy pop, you can eat your way through the 30 different options, but make sure to try the spinach pie (baked wheat), pernil (wheat fried), and veggie empanada (corn) that comes with sautéed red and green peppers, zucchini, onions, and mushrooms. Also, I’m in love with their perfectly spicy cilantro jalapeño sauce, and I think you will be too.
Criollas Baked Empanadas
Located in the Columbus Circle subway station, this Argentinian spot serves comforting empanadas from owner (and former dentist), Mario Vivas. Mario learned his empanada skills from his grandmother Stella who taught him everything he knows, including how to make one of the best ham and cheese empanadas I’ve ever had - its creamy filling of mozzarella, nutmeg, and ham oozes perfectly. Unlike a lot of spots on this guide, everything here is organic and they use a flaky vegan dough. Also, the shape of their empanadas is a bit more oblong, which differs from the classic - the difference in shape allows the crust to hold in the melted cheese and keep it off your pants. The sweet corn creme with scallions, red peppers, and onions is a delicious vegetarian option, and the smoked chicken empanada is full of rich tomato sauce and onions. You can also order from Criollas Baked online, including their Buenos Aires box: a special mix of 12 classic empanadas that includes six Malbec beef, three spinach asiago, and three fugazetta with cheese and caramelized onions.
Claudy’s Kitchen is a Peruvian family business that’s proud of its heritage and imperfectly shaped, handmade empanadas, which range from $3-3.50 apiece. Situated on a busy stretch of Broadway in The Bronx, varieties here include chopped rotisserie chicken, chicharron (fried pork belly and salsa criolla), and an empanada verde with spinach, mozzarella, and caramelized onions. Top your order off with their dessert option filled with fresh apples, cinnamon, and caramel.
This traditional Argentinian spot in the East Village is about as close to Buenos Aires as you can get without leaving New York, and serves a wonderful mix of parrillada, pastas, langoustines, and salads, along with plenty of traditional empanadas. The special hand-cut, sizzling skirt steak empanada is a meal onto itself, whereas the Caprese is lighter, but still plenty buttery. If you’re looking for something a little creamier, go with the espinaca, filled with spinach, ricotta, and mozzarella. This is also a great spot to meet up with friends or a date - just make sure to place an extra order of empanadas.
With over 40 wheat and corn options on the menu, Empanada Mama might have the biggest selection of empanadas in the city (including plenty for vegetarians). They have unexpected versions like the Greek spinach pie, Cuban, Polish with kielbasa and sauerkraut, Hawaiian, Italian (sausage, peppers, and onions), and American cheeseburger. All are baked or fried to order with an especially great crunch. Despite the name, I actually loved their Viagra empanada: a combination of seafood stew, fresh tiger shrimp, and crab meat.
El Gauchito is one of the oldest Argentinian meat markets/butchers and restaurants in New York. The empanadas at this Elmhurst classic are traditionally baked with savory chicken or grilled beef ($1.99 apiece), which you can also get delivered frozen and ready to bake so you’ll always be ready for an impromptu empanada party.
With multiple convenient kiosk locations throughout the city, Nuchas’ slow-braised short rib and vegan shiitake curry empanadas are some of the most inventive I’ve ever had. Baked to perfection and perfectly braided, the empanadas here are both soft and simultaneously crunchy with a particularly impressive repulgue. They also have many vegan and vegetarian options, including the miso ginger-roasted Korean pumpkin, which was a delicious surprise. Nuchas empanada packs are available for nationwide shipping and can be ordered online.
At the corner of Grand and Union in Williamsburg is Café Argentino, which offers a mix of updated and classic Argentinian dishes. They currently have both indoor and outdoor dining, but try to get a seat inside to experience the vintage decor that feels straight out of an old Buenos Aires cafe. The empanadas are handmade and baked to order, and include queso (provolone with olive oil and oregano), pollo (slow-cooked, shredded chicken with peppers and onions), and the Malbec, a family recipe of tender braised beef. Empanadas come two per order for $8 and if you’re lucky, you might get to experience some live music or tango as well, which they do often.