South of the border west of the river
Empanadas restaurant opens in Manch
By Linda A. Thompson-Odum email@example.com
Manchester has Ruben Figueroa’s friends and co-workers to thank for his new Empanadas Spanish-Mexican restaurant on the city’s West Side. While Figueroa made a batch of empanadas at the flour-covered stainless steel table in the center of the restaurant’s kitchen, he explained: “I never thought I would have a restaurant. This was my hobby. I cook anything. I used to take empanadas in to the place where I worked [PSNH] and people would ask, ‘What are those? Can you bring me some?’ Every weekend I was making these things. My wife said, ‘You got to get out of my kitchen.’”
The restaurant’s menu features four empanada varieties — beef, chicken, seafood and vegetarian. Figueroa also makes apple and cherry dessert empanadas. He explained that these small turnover-style pies were created by wives for their husbands to take with them out into the fields so they could eat without the need for a knife and fork.
Figueroa was born and raised in Manhattan. He learned to make empanadas and pasteles (meat pies wrapped inside a masa made with green bananas, plantains and yautia roots) from his grandmother, who would sell them from her New York kitchen.
“I used to sit at the table while she was making them and mess up her cooking,” he remembered with a smile. “That’s what she did all her life to make a living. People all over New York City are still doing this, though the health inspectors would not like it.”
Empanadas is not Figueroa’s first restaurant. After a 30-year career in the U.S. Navy’s intelligence division, he went to work for the state of Connecticut and then opened a Spanish restaurant and nightclub in Hartford. The family would come to New Hampshire almost every weekend to visit his wife’s family. Eventually they decided to move here.
Figueroa’s wife is a professor of nursing at NHTI. She and his two sons help him in the restaurant when they aren’t at their day jobs. (One son works on his master’s degree and plans to be a history professor, and the other was in the military for 12 years and now works for Southern Wine & Spirits of New England.)
Besides empanadas and pasteles, the menu also includes tacos, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, fajitas and nachos. There are daily specials, and every Friday features Spanish Paella full of assorted seafood, chicken, pork, ham, chorizo, vegetables and rice. A number of customers have requested tamales, so Figueroa may soon put them on the menu.
“There are 27 Spanish-speaking countries in the world and everyone will know what the dishes are on my menu,” he said.
Figueroa told with pride a story about two moving company workers from Texas who came in and begged him for some food like they would get at home. He says the pair left full and happy.
“We really enjoy what we’re doing. We make it simple and do the kinds of things that people generally ask for,” Figueroa said.