By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Feb 07, 2023 at 7:04 PM

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After a private soft opening this past weekend, La Cocina Del Sur Empanada Bar will officially welcome its first guests on Feb. 8 beginning at 4 p.m.


Just this morning signage (created by Nicolas Hardrath of The Urban Craftsman and framed by Gregory Whitehall of Metalsmoke Design) went up for the restaurant at 701 E. Keefe Ave. in the restaurant space which formerly housed Riverwest Filling Station.

The new brick and mortar restaurant marks a milestone for Pedro Tejada who spent the past eight years operating the mobile food operation, Pedro’s South American Food, which offered up delicious empanadas, along with a short list of dishes from Ecuador, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and beyond.

Pedro Tejada inside his new restaurant
Pedro Tejada inside his new restaurant

It's also an incredible addition to the Riverwest neighborhood, which is now home to a restaurant which will showcase more Ecuadorian fare than any venue between Chicago and Minneapolis.

A new shine 

Tejada didn’t make wholesale changes to the Riverwest restaurant. He loved the overall look and feel, including the plentiful windows, brick walls and rustic wood and metal work. 

Dining roomX

However, guests will notice a variety of additions which serve to warm up the space, including new art and a plentiful collection of plants.

Decor changes include the eye-catching lounge area which greets customers as they walk into the restaurant. Plush, warm-toned seating pops against a bright aqua backdrop decorated with decorative mirrors, while tall tropical plants and a blue patterned rug serve to pull the look together.

Lounge areaX

The bar, which is backlit with fuschia light, will showcase a drink list that includes Prosecco on tap (with red and white wines to come), numerous locally brewed beers and a variety of cocktails. Tejada says they are currently developing their cocktail program, so guests can expect offerings to grow to come as time moves forward.

Bar at La Cocina Del SurX

The wall opposite the bar and down the hallway leading to the restrooms has been enhanced with Italian plaster glazed in mult-faceted hues of gold, red and orange. The artful walls showcase the work of Carrie Chimenti of Chimenti Studios.

Venetian plaster work by Chimenti StudiosX

Meanwhile, a hand-made “Arepas” sign Tejado made with letters from a shop in Minneapolis hangs on the southern wall of the restaurant near the kitchen alongside an eye-catching painting depicting urban nightlife by Shorewood artist Eli Rosenblatt.

Art at La Cocina del SurX

On the menu

As for the menu, it showcases a number of familiar items, including elotes, corn bowls and empanadas (in flavors like beef picadillo, ropa vieja, aji de gallina, chorizo potato cheddar and corn poblanos cheddar), priced $5-$6/50.

There is the classic choripan, an Argentine sandwich featuring chorizo served with potato salad, lettuce, tomato and chimichurri ($14.50 with fries); and Colombian arepas de choclo featuring a choice of mechada beef or chicken ($14.50). Guests will also find tamales wrapped in banana leaves and served alongside pickled onions, cilantro and chipotle salsa (fillings vary from day to day).


But there are also plenty of additions. Tajeda’s empanada offerings have expanded to include salteña (filled with hand-cut beef or chicken thighs, potato, sweet peas, carrots, onion and hard boiled eggs), Cubano (shredded pork, ham, mustard cream cheese); and gluten-friendly Colombian style fried empanadas featuring a choice of chicken or beef (two for $5).

Guests will also find numerous hard-to-find gems on the menu, including a showcase of dishes from Tejada’s hometown in Quito, Ecuador. 

Offerings include appetizers like chifles con guacamole (green plantain chips served with guacamole) for $10; Ecuadorian potato soup, locro de papas con cuero, which features a creamy base topped with queso fresco, avocado, cilantro and pork cracklings ($7.50); and

Mote Con Chicharron (Photo: Pedro Tejada)
Mote Con Chicharron (Photo: Pedro Tejada)

pernil quiteño, a sandwich made with thinly sliced slow roasted pork shoulder served on a roll with fresh tomatoes, pickled onions and a side of Ecuadorian hot sauce (served with fries for $14.50).

Ecuadorian entrees include mote con chicharron, crispy pork belly served atop warm hominy fried sweet plantains and roasted corn nuts served with encurtido tomato salad with aji hot sauce ($14).

Tejada says he’ll also be debuting a brand new dish, llapingachos, and Ecuadorian version of potato pancakes. In this dish, potato patties are stuffed with cheese, seared on a flattop grill and served with chorizo links, avocado and peanut sauce.


Meanwhile, for those who crave something sweet, desserts include Press Belgian style liege waffles topped with dulce de leche, berry coulis, raw pistachio, fresh strawberries and a scoop of Purple Door ice cream ($9); churros for $4 (ask for the flavor of the day); and platanitos (deep fried plantains drizzled with condensed milk and cinnamon sugar ($9). 

Tejada says that, within the next week or two, he will also launch happy hour featuring special pricing on empanadas, wine and beer. Fans can watch out for that launch on La Cocina's Facebook and Instagram pages.

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.”

La Cocina Del Sur’s opening hours will be Wednesday through Saturday from 4 to 9 (the bar will remain open until 10).

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Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

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.