Thursday, December 24, 2009

Empanada Kitchen, 1551 28th St SW - 12/24/09

Look up “empanada” and you will see a long history of world-wide variations on a theme. But you don’t need to google it - just check out and you can read all about it. The restaurant is located in a small, free-standing building on the southwest side; we drove past it the first time. We parked at the neighboring corner business and walked over. What greeted us was blaring Mexican-flavored music and no one in the place but a woman behind the counter. It was apparent we needed to order at the counter so after having selected our booth, we stepped up to see the menu. The woman gave us a wave as she disappeared in the kitchen and the music continued to blast. After about five minutes, she returned and tried to answer our questions regarding the menu, but the language barrier was huge. She finally turned down the radio and tried to assist us in ordering. It was pretty confusing as we tried to understand her and read from the menus and charts available. We finally got two empanadas ordered each and then had to tackle the “sides”. More confusion. We finally just ordered/pointed to the sides we could see at the counter buffet and called it good. The friendly woman directed us to the cooler to select a beverage, selections of which were pretty limited.

We waited at our booth for our food and checked out the surroundings. (The woman continued to play her music, at a reduced volume, and at times was heard singing along.) There are 5 tables and 2 booths, each holding 4 people (ours sloped down from the wall). Decor is light: one painting, 2 Mexican wall pieces, 1 air conditioner, and the obligatory Christmas wreath. A small table held coffee mugs for sale, and a beverage cooler was present running loud. A customer came in wearing a hoodie and knit cap. He patiently waited at the counter until she brought out our order. Then he ordered 12 empanadas to go, and sat in a chair directly in front of and facing the cooler and didn’t move until his order was ready. He made me feel uneasy and I’m not sure why. (I surreptitiously moved my cash from my wallet to my jeans pocket - sorry paranoia, you win.)

Our food was bought out and we ended up with one platter holding two fajita beef empanadas, with meatballs and vegetables as its sides, and one platter holding a fajita beef empanada and a chicken empanada, with sides of beans and vegetables. The empanadas were really quite good; lightly deep fried, the pastry was flavorful and the meat/cheese combinations were tasty. The sides were odd choices for a Mexican restaurant and fared much worse. The vegetables had some flavor, but were overcooked and mushy, as expected at a buffet offering. Meatballs and beans were ok but nothing special. The empanada pastry tasted homemade. The sophisticated website belies the actual atmosphere of the restaurant, which is interesting in itself. We were wondering how a one, or maybe two, person restaurant could afford a 28th street location and stay in business (please don’t be a front for drug-running). The website lists three locations, Grand Rapids, East Lansing, and Ann Arbor, all of which state “coming soon”. So perhaps this isn’t an independent local effort? Catering services are offered and an owner and manager are listed on the business card for this location, both women. Check it out if you like an out-of-the-ordinary restaurant, not-a-national-chain-restaurant, and are fond of empanadas. Our next empanadas will be taken to go.

Empanada Kitchen on Urbanspoon


  1. Hey, you don't go to a place called "The Empanada Kitchen" for its romantic atmosphere, just like you don't go to Yesterdog for the art on the walls. You're there for one thing... empanadas! And those empanadas are better than any empanadas in Grand Rapids (Okay, I challenge you to find another empanada on a menu here in GR). But they really are pretty good. They, along with the sides, actually taste better with a little hot sauce. The language-challenged lady is actually very charming in a Munsters sort of way and I like her singing! And finally, it might be a good thing if it's a drug front, because there's no way that place can stay in business selling yummy empanadas to four total customers every day. The drug money will hopefully help keep the food side of the operation afloat.

  2. By the way, KK and I suggest the following "fun" restaurants for this blog:
    - Grand Central Market as a sandwich place downtown
    - Sandmans BBQ
    - the new pizza place next to Hopcat
    - Jet Ball Cafe (yeah, we know it's a Gilmore Group place)

  3. Just to clarify: not looking for a romantic setting, just a nice comfortable atmosphere, which this isn't. Guy in the hoodie had the right idea :)

  4. P.S. Empanadas also available at On The Border (national chain so 2 strikes against it).

  5. I guess we all agree that their Empanadas are the best in town. I have tried the On the Border's one and there is simply no comparisson. Empanada Kitchen has the best Empanadas in town. The lady that sings, is actually the owner. She is Dominican, not Mexican. She doesn't speak a lot of English, but hey at least she is trying rather than collecting unemployment. The place is actually really cute and she has done a really nice job with that location (remember the former tacos place?). I have eaten there like 6 times now and my experience has been very positive. I have seen a lot of business people eating there at lunch. Their all you can eat Sunday special is my favorite.

  6. Thanks for the information, Anonymous, and you've saved me a trip to "On the Border" :-)