Papa's Empanadas. Rated on the Village Voice's top 100 cheap eats in the City, this designation is well-deserved.
Papa's is in the Egyptian section of Steinway located just South of Astoria Boulevard. The storefront is ugly - in a McDonald's sort of way. I’m sure you’ll agree; it looks like a wannabe franchise. Bright blue formica counters and a backlit menu. This place is *clean*. The original was actually Mama's Empanada's in Jackson Heights. This is their second location.
Everyone and everything in Papa’s is very friendly to English and Spanish speakers alike. The clientele range from Astorian yuppies to Columbian regulars. (Technically, I suppose someone could be both – but we didn’t see anyone that fit that description.) The woman who cooks the restaurant’s ingenious creations was out in front speaking with all of the customers, making sure we enjoyed our food. Hairnet n' all.
Papa’s has, count 'em, 37 kinds of empanadas, plus tamales, homemade soup and other Colombian specialties. Their empanadas span the cultures present in Astoria. They also have yummy Columbia sodas. Why are Latin sodas so good? (Except Inca Cola - eeeow. What happened there?) They also have flan and arroz con leche (rice with milk). Sadly, I can’t stand any foods of this consistency so I had to miss out there. Maybe you can tell me if they’re good.
The vegetable empanada and the rice & bean empanada were both really tasty. The plantain & cheese – nice n’ sweet. The broccoli & cheese - whoa - unbelievable. Not your standard broc n’ cheese action going on here. All the fillings were rich, moist and flavorful. And full – no skimping here. The empanada crusts were light and varied – different crusts are used for different fillings, appropriately. They had two fresh hot sauces. I don't touch the stuff, but Steve is a connoisseur (yes, we make it work somehow) and he says they were great.
This place is very vegetarian friendly. They have far more than the standard beef, chicken and cheese offerings. I’ll have to return to try Spinach & Cheese, and Peanut Butter & Banana, not to mention the Greek, Polish, and Hawaiian empanadas.
A lunch for two - 6 empanadas and 2 sodas - $9. Are you kidding me?
PS. Thanks to a helpful reader for assistance with this post.