There is a new restaurant on the docket for the former Riverwest Filling Station at 701 E. Keefe Ave.
Pedro Tejada, owner of Pedro’s South American Food, will be opening La Cocina Del Sur Empanada Bar, a restaurant which will feature a wide variety of dishes from South American countries including Ecuador, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and beyond.
“We’ve been very successful with our food truck, and our catering business has been growing,” says Tejada. “But this is a new adventure. It’s exciting to have the opportunity to serve people dishes from South America that aren’t being showcased elsewhere. I am excited. There’s so much more to share with the city.”
Building owner Bryan Atinsky, who also operated Riverwest Filling Station, says he couldn’t think of a better tenant for the restaurant.
“Pedro’s food is excellent,” he says. “It’s cooked from scratch and it will be a very good addition to the neighborhood.”
While timing for the opening of the restaurant is somewhat uncertain, largely due to a backlog of licensure applications and multiple vacancies in alderperson positions, Tejada says he is hoping to debut the restaurant in December of 2022 or January of 2023.
What to expect
A native of Quito, Ecuador, Tejada says his interest in food was piqued during a five month backpacking expedition he took when he was just 18 years old. After graduating from school, he traveled to a variety of countries in South America, sampling foods from a variety of street vendors.
When he moved to Milwaukee in 2005, he took on a variety of roles in area restaurants. But in July of 2015, he decided to branch out on his own. He debuted his first food cart in July of that year, serving a menu of handmade Ecuadorian style empanadas and tamales. Over time, he branched out to include other offerings, including Colombian style arepas, a popular offering which prompted the launch of a second food cart in 2017. By 2019, he’d acquired the funds to purchase a full-fledged food truck.
Around the same time, Tejada says, he began looking for a brick and mortar location. But when the pandemic hit in March of 2020, he put those plans on the back burner, opting instead to continue serving food from his truck and offering catering services.
So when the opportunity arose to take over the space in Riverwest, Tejada says he was excited to take over a space that was in such beautiful condition.
“We really love the look of the space,” he says. “Most of the walls are brick and there are so many windows. We also love the rustic wood and metal work.”
Tejada says they don’t have plans to make many changes to the restaurant with the exception of adding some basic decor to create an ambiance that’s fitting to the food they’ll be serving.
As for the menu, he says they’ll begin by offering staple items which they’ve served from the food truck, including fried plantains, yucca frites, tacos, tamales and empanadas filled with ropa vieja, picadillo chicken and chicken mole.
Tejada will also offer his popular handmade arepas stuffed with cheese, a choice of proteins (pulled pork, mechado beef, chicken mojo or black beans) and topped with curtido slaw, pickled red onions, cilantro and aioli.
But Tejada says he will also take the opportunity to roll out new items, offering regular specials at the restaurant and adding to the menu as time moves forward.
Pending the approval of their liquor license, La Cocina Del Sur will also feature a full bar. Tejada says he hopes to carry a selection of South American wines and locally brewed beer, including selections like the lager or pilsner from Third Space Brewing, which are a lovely match for Tejada’s empanadas. Guests can also expect a small cocktail menu featuring classic South American drinks as well as a variety of hot spiked beverages for the winter months.
Tejada, who has been a resident of the Riverwest neighborhood for over a decade, says it’s an honor to open a restaurant in the area.
“This is a neighborhood where I’ve grown to know so many people,” he says. “And when we set up our truck here people are always so appreciative. So this was a great opportunity for us to continue to serve this community.”
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.