Maria Lloyd is the owner and creator of Empanada Llama, a terrific Peruvian restaurant on Delaware Avenue in Albany. Here, the empanada reigns supreme. There are seven different kinds of savory empanadas on the menu each day. Plus, you’ll find three sweet versions, like Banana Nutella and Apple Pie. And these empanadas are decidedly different than the Puerto Rican or other versions you may have had. These are stuffed full, with crispy, crunchy exteriors, so that the fillings are the headlines, rather than being overpowered by a thick, doughy wrapper.
Maria became a cook and restauranteur only after she came to the United States. Initially, she came to study graphic design. But 25 years ago, while raising two daughters, she saw that Americans were falling for the empanadas she was making at international food festivals. Cooking provided a way for her to bring money in while raising her two daughters, while her husband Joe worked double shifts to make ends meet. She opened the restaurant with the help of her daughter, who now lives in San Diego.
Don’t Miss: The Green Empanada & Green Sauce
Maria grew up in Piura, in northern Peru, where there are nice beaches and a beautiful climate all year round. The food at Empanada Llama reflects her northern background, with noted differences from food in Lima and Cuzco. One specialty is the green tamale, which is only found in Piura (it’s fantastic, and silky soft). Don’t miss out on the homemade green sauce, which, if you’re lucky, you can also buy for take-out.
Happily, Maria sat with us for nearly an hour and told us so much about her life and experience in both the U.S. and Peru. During our conversation, she also adapted our food to suit our preferences. She made me some gluten-free empanadas, which you can get if you call ahead. The yucca is also gluten-free, as are the delicious tamales.
Thankfully for us, the empanada business worked, and she remains a fixture at the Delmar and Schenectady Farmers Markets. The store front on Delaware Avenue has been open for five years, with a variety of Peruvian foods and handmade gifts.