O’Lala Empanadas in Bergen Hill: The Name Says It All
As Bergen Hill continues to bloom economically, one flavorful flower that is just getting ready to celebrate its first anniversary is O’Lala Empanadas. Situated at 600 Communipaw Avenue, this Latin-fusion restaurant is owned and operated by the Borges family, born and raised here in Jersey City. While it has only been opened a short time, it has already made a splash in the community.
The storefront is small and unassuming, but once you walk through the doors, you are greeted by a warm and homey décor full of greenery. Colorful signs speak of “love” and “family” which is what manager Laly Borges says was the basis for starting this restaurant. “We all grew up around here and loved to eat, but there wasn’t the type of restaurant that we wanted to eat in. We owned the company next door [MagicTax], so we decided this was the perfect place. When people can stop in and get quick, good, affordable food, what more could you want?! The name of restaurant comes from my mom whose name is Lala.” (Both ladies share the same name, Idalia, which can be shortened in many ways.)
The name obviously implies that you are going to have some great empanadas. “Empanadas span almost all Hispanic countries and we wanted everyone to feel welcome,” says Borges. With more than a dozen options, there are the traditional types such as roast pork and beef and cheese, but the offerings also include Cajun chicken, spinach and cheese, and Teriyaki chicken and broccoli. The Philly Cheese and Cuban empanadas did not disappoint. The outside was crispy and flaky, while keeping the inside moist and fluffy. And for those that know empanadas, it’s all about the dough.
Another of their house specialties is the Arroz Chaufa, a Chinese-influenced Peruvian fried rice dish. “When we were planning the menu, we wanted to incorporate things from different countries that we knew customers would like,” Borges explained. “We also have a Pasteleon, a type of Puerto Rican lasagna as well as our Cuban sandwich, which is probably our bestselling sandwich.” The steak, chicken and shrimp chaufa had great flavors, and the helpings are generous. On the side we had some homemade yucca fries which, according to my Latina wife were, “The best yucca fries I’ve ever had in my life.” So take that into consideration.
Two special beverages on the menu include the Batidos de fruta and Coco Loco. Batidos de frutas, or fruit shakes, are a way that most Latin and Island countries use their bountiful fruits to good advantage. The pineapple-strawberry version was solid and refreshing. “Coco Loco,” Borges tells us, “is a traditional Puerto Rican egg nog, here at the restaurant we use my dad’s recipe. On the Island (or for those with the Island in their hearts) spiced rum is added for a little extra kick.” Since it is BYOB, they can’t offer the latter, but they do sell the virgin mix to go, in beautiful bottles.
Borges brother Edwin says they started the business as a way to engage the community through a good meal and to feed people. “My mother is always trying to give the kids some free food,” he says laughing, rolling his eyes.
“It’s true!” says Lala Borges, “I’m always trying to get everybody to eat, eat, eat!”
Being Jersey City natives, has helped them to really be a part of the community and they take pride in making their customers happy. Receiving our dessert of a brownie explosion empanada, we can see why they have lots of regulars and will continue to help influence their neighborhood.
O’Lala Empanadas is located at 600 Communipaw Ave. They can be reached at 201.360.3546 or visit them on Facebook.
Photos by Hunt Ethridge