San Mateo: Gourmet Food on the Go

Michael J. Costa/Daily Journal Bret Marin, 40, of Castro Valley checks out Mama’s Empanadas menu at Oyster Point in South San Francisco.

By Emily DeRuy | Daily Journal

Bret Marin, 40, of Castro Valley checks out Mama’s Empanadas menu at Oyster Point in South San Francisco. Michael J. Costa/Daily Journal

A line of people wound around Mama’s Empanadas on a recent Thursday in an office park in Brisbane. The food truck, along with several others in the same parking lot, caters to the lunch crowd from local businesses. The Chilean-Italian fusion cuisine draws a mixed group, everyone from older white-collared businessmen to young professionals.

Based out of San Mateo, Christina, who prefers not to use her last name, and her sister Gina got the idea for Mama’s Empanadas about a year ago. Familiar with the catering business but not interested in managing the extensive overhead that comes with running a restaurant, a particularly precarious venture in this economy, the sisters settled on the idea of a food truck. Their conclusion is not uncommon.

“They started popping up last summer,” said Christina. “Because of the economy, opening an actual storefront is more expensive. It’s also easier to get permits for food trucks.”

The number of food trucks has grown in the last year, particularly in the food-centric Bay Area. The response has been favorable, especially from workers bored of standard cafeteria fare.

“I come a lot. I go truck to truck and try different foods,” said Shaun Buckley, who works nearby.

Mama’s Empanadas features the fried dough specialties stuffed with fresh Mediterranean fare and homemade soups and gnocchi. The recipes draw their inspiration from Christina’s and Gina’s mother, Ana, who spent her childhood divided between Italy and Chile before moving to the United States some 40 years ago.

“My mom is the inspiration,” said Christina. “She’s also the chef. My sister is the cashier and I’m a sort of sous chef.”

The trio prepares the food in a professional kitchen, La Cocina, in San Francisco and then finishes the dishes in the food truck.

Located in the Mission District in San Francisco, “La Cocina is a ground-breaking business incubator designed to reduce the obstacles that often prevent entrepreneurs from creating successful and sustainable businesses,” reads the commercial kitchen’s website. “We focus primarily on women from communities of color and immigrant communities. Our vision is that entrepreneurs will become economically self-sufficient and contribute to a vibrant economy doing what they love to do.”

Social media like Twitter and Facebook allow people to track the truck’s location. Christina and her sister post the truck’s schedule online, and are always looking for new locations to service. The mobility of the truck allows Mama’s Empanadas to adapt to the market. Marina Boulevard in Brisbane and Oyster Point in South San Francisco are popular locations, although the truck frequents other Peninsula locations like Redwood Shores and San Mateo, as well.

The empanadas they serve, which start at $4, range from spicy beef to spring vegetable, while the soup is always vegetarian. There is homemade polenta and Gina recently started adding her fresh cookies to the menu.

“I come once a week, when they are here,” said Geraldine Niemczyk, who works in a building on Marina Boulevard near the parking lot where the truck stops frequently. “It’s really good. It’s fast, it’s convenient and they have a good variety.”


To find out where Mama’s Empanadas will be parked, follow them on Facebook at and on Twitter at!/MamaEmpanadasSF. You may also reach them by phone at 650-281-6431.