The best restaurants respect the food they make, and understand what makes it special. This doesn’t necessarily mean trying to elevate “street food” to the status of fine dining, although this has certainly been the trend. The best restaurants know that making something simply and well is most important.
La Gourmet Empanadas (74 Herkimer St. at W. Ferry) is a great example of a place that makes something well while respecting its accessibility. You can walk in off the street and ask for the usual flavors of this latin street food–namely beef, chicken and pork–and you’ll get a handheld pie with a fried, not-too-heavy crust and a just the right amount of fillings.
The beef and cheese is well-balanced, the meat is not too dry and there’s just enough cheese to satisfy. The flavors aren’t complex, but they don’t need to be. That’s what makes a well-made empanada so special.
They also offer vegetarian options with beans, peppers and spinach, and a large selection of sweet dessert empanadas. The pizza empanada seems like a good idea–meat, cheese and crispy dough are favorites in this country, after all, no matter what shape they’re in–even though finding something “pizza-flavored” that’s as satisfying as a real slice is frustratingly difficult (and if you’ve ever tried a Hot Pocket, you probably know this).
That’s why I didn’t expect to like La Gourmet’s pizza empanada as much as I did. The cheese isn’t too runny or stringy, and the pastry isn’t overfilled. In the U.S. there is often an emphasis on getting more food, rather than better food. But La Gourmet Empanadas are clean, not too greasy, and, most importantly, leave you satisfied without the stomach ache that comes with some fried food.
With empanadas, sometimes less is more–and this is something La Gourmet Empanadas seems to understand better than most.