Book-ending 85th street in Jackson Heights, Mama’s Empanadas and Papa’s Empanadas caught Gothamist’s attention on a recent food-finding mission to the borough.

Separated by mere yards and boasting suspiciously similar storefronts, our minds—driven as they are by block lettered tabloids—turned instantly to scandal. Oh, the delicious rivalry we conjured! Wars fought over family recipes, secret ingredients leaked to sources undeserving, bitter enmities born of pockets of dough! An angry pair of merchants courting Jackson Heights with prices plummeting in succession, specials competing for the greatest value, wildly creative fillings fashioned only for the laurels of having been there first—a kind of culinary dueling banjos forever noodling on Northern Boulevard.

In fact, Mama’s and Papa’s is a friendly affair, the brainchild of Alberto Bastidias. In 1978, his parents opened Cali Viejo, one of the first Columbian restaurants in Queens. It thrived for nearly two decades, shuttering in 1996 but not before leaving a lasting impression on the young Bastidias. After seeing the lure of empanadas for diners far transcending his Columbian community, he resolved to open a shop dedicated to an ever expanding repertoire of the savory, portable treats. “Dunkin Donuts? Lots of donuts. Baskin Robbins? Thirty-one flavors. Why not empanadas?” he says.

Mama’s—named for Bastidias’ abiding matriarch (she also goes by Alba)—opened in 2001 with eight empanadas on the menu. That figure has since grown to sixty selections, ranging from the authentic beef and chicken empanadas to international versions like the Polish (kielbasa and sauerkraut) or Cuban (ham, pork and cheese).

In 2006, Bastidias opened Papa’s in response to his father’s petition for a piece of the pastry. “I’m working hard 7/24 (sic) why not name one after me!” Bastidias recalls him saying. Papa’s menu replicated Mama’s but the store was designed to be more inviting to diners as opposed to the counter concept that its parent shop embraced. Alba, Alberto and his brother Juan Carlos still hold court at Papa’s, often directing overflow back and forth across 85th street.


2007_02_mamasempanadas.jpgThe empanadas at both locations are made fresh daily, cooked to order (baked or fried) and served with cups of cilantro-spiked aji. There are beautiful moments on the menu—the Chorizo was tenderly spiced, the Queso delicious in its humility and the Chili-Dog was embarrassingly addictive. Dessert empanadas, like the peanut butter and banana-stuffed Elvis (conceived while watching a television special on its namesake, natch), Fig, Caramel and Cheese, or Guava and Cheese are largely spectacular, particularly when washed down with guanábana or lulo juice. But with so many varieties it seems inevitable to encounter a few misses. Surprisingly, we were least impressed with the basics—beef and chicken—which felt neglected under the excitement of their progressive brethren.

And so, with a full stomach and another reason to believe that Queens ain’t so bad, our hunt for a truly saucy food feud continues unrequited. Readers?

Mama’s Empanadas
85-05 Northern Blvd.
Queens, NY 11372

Papa’s Empanadas
84-17 Northern Blvd.
Queens, NY 11372

Note: both have multiple locations