La Empanada Llama at the intersection of Delaware Ave and Whitehall in Albany offers a unique type of cuisine for the Capital District – Peruvian. You’ll find this establishment popping up at various farmers’ markets throughout the region (they were previously one of my favorite pit stops at the Wednesday Empire Plaza farmers’ market, but it unfortunately appears that they won’t be returning this year). The brick and mortar location has a handful of small tables that are adorned with colorfully patterned tablecloths as well as lots of interesting cultural artwork on the walls. Also, there’s a giant stuffed llama that greets you at the front counter.
Although the restaurant offers a variety of full dinners and rotating specials, I’ve always found that the best value lies in ordering a couple of the empanadas and a few sides. The empanadas are probably the restaurant’s most well-known offering, with varieties that include chicken, beef, chorizo and cabbage, spinach and cheese, and several dessert options (nutella and banana, apple, or dulce de leche). In my experience, the savory empanadas are the best way to go.
In particular, I tend to enjoy the chicken and the beef empanadas. The chicken filling is soft and shredded, served in a mild aji amarillo sauce (a yellow pepper based sauce). The flavors are on the lighter side, but the sauce lends an almost smooth and creamy texture to the chicken that’s a good contrast against the flaky shell. The beef empanadas can be a little on the dry side, but the filling has more variety with a mixture of ground beef, rice, corn, and raisins.
The biggest amateur ordering mistake you can make at La Empanada Llama is to leave without a side of green sauce to dip your empanadas in. Man, that sauce is so good. I haven’t completely deduced what it’s made of, but it has strong flavors of cilantro and jalapeno pepper with a creamy base. It is essential to the empanada experience.
My favorite sides to go with an empanada lunch are the rice with chorizo and the fried plantains. Although this time the rice was a little dried out, perhaps from sitting too long during the day, in general this is the more flavorful rice offering compared to the regular rice and beans. The little bits of chorizo and corn add some much needed texture to the dish. The plantains can be a little oily, but they provide the perfect amount of light sweetness to complement the rest of the meal.
La Empanada Llama isn’t a place for big fancy dishes, or for sitting down with a meal that’s shared with a large group. But it is great for a quick empanada at a farmers’ market, or some hearty takeout. Service is exceptionally friendly and helpful if you’re trying to figure out what all of the items on the menu include. Also worth checking out on a future visit – the list of weekly specials at the restaurant includes a Peruvian ceviche on Fridays.