More and more these days, the Family Chow is finding ideas for new culinary adventures from the increasingly independent, teenage-half of the family. Whereas Mom and Dad used to determine the where and when of our explorations, now, the terms are often negotiated.
Our latest night out was a case in point. Daughter and her teenage friends had been enjoying take-out from Empanada Llama for weeks when she suggested we make the small Peruvian eatery the subject of our latest review. When she pointed out to her always-skeptical brother that beef empanadas could be considered Peru’s version of a hamburger, he relented and we made a plan.
As it turns out, Daughter had other plans with fellow teenagers on the Saturday night we picked, but sent us along with recommendations based on her favorite menu items. We were lucky enough to find street parking feet from the Delaware Avenue location.
The very small space was painted all white with the occasional piece of wall art and a giant stuffed llama standing guard near the counter. Mom and Son secured a small table while Dad chatted about the menu with the young woman behind the counter. All three of us noticed that the space was in need of some attention. The empty table next to us had been mostly cleared, save for smeared remnants of food from the previous diners. Perhaps a kink left to be worked out for a place open less than a year in its new location.
Empanada Llama’s menu is filled with Peruvian staples including lots of potato, chicken and quinoa dishes. Several types of Empanadas are available: chicken, beef, chorizo, bean, and Daughter’s favorite – Mexican (beef, guacamole, and refried beans). Appetizers ranged from the popular dish Papa a la Huancaina (boiled potatoes covered in cheese) to a platter of fried yucca, plantains, tamale and empanada. Main courses included a half dozen chicken preparations, a beef stir fry, two unexpected spaghetti entrees and a stuffed pepper with quinoa and spinach. There were also four types of tamales on the menu (pork, chicken, bean and a corn tamale named “green”) along with several salads and sides.
The bottled drinks caught Son’s eye, so we ordered a few – the Chicha Limena (a non-carbonated, clove flavored drink) and the Inca Kola. Just as Dad finished placing our order, a server appeared with cups and utensils, followed shortly by our appetizer – Salchipapas ($4) – a Peruvian street food dish of French fries with cut up hotdogs. Between bites of Salchipapas and sips of the lemongrass flavored Inca Kola, Son expressed his growing appreciation for Peruvian cuisine. Mom and Dad tried to save room for the selection of Empanadas ($3, each) and Roast Pork ($11.95) to come. Daughter had suggested the chicken empanada, and it did not disappoint. The soft shredded chicken filling tasted cheesy and not too salty. We were equally impressed with the cabbage and chorizo sausage filling, although Dad was not as happy with the beef version. Despite the addition of corn and raisins, he found it bland. The empanadas had an appealing homemade look and the dough was mostly crispy, though thick and chewy in spots. The cilantro-jalapeno-cheese dipping sauce, however, was “divine” according to Dad and Daughter. Mom was very impressed with the Roast Pork – perfectly juicy, fork tender meat with a hint of garlic flavor and not too much salt. The rice and beans and chickpeas and greens sides were a hit as well. From the amount of plastic waste our table was generating, it felt more take-out than dine-in, but hopefully that will change with a growing customer base.
For dessert, we split a slice of Tres Leches Cake along with an Apple Pie Empanada. The dense, soaked cake was milky, rich deliciousness and hard to stop eating. Son liked the apple filling of his empanada but next time might choose Daughter’s favorite – the Dulce de Leche. Overall, we enjoyed our trek to Empanada Llama. The service was very friendly and warm, despite the inattention to some details in the dining room. We give Empanada Llama 3 C’s for service, 3 C’s for family friendliness and 3.5 C’s for food.