A fresh empanada is a many splendored thing: buttery pastry nearly as flaky as phyllo, stuffed with a meal’s worth of meat or vegetables, and either baked or fried to order. It’s portable, too, a dish designed for easy eating that spread across Central and South America. Here at home, empanadas are as diverse as the multitudes of cultures and cuisines that devour them.
Empanada’s Place is home to all things Argentine. The restaurant makes some of the best empanadas in Southern California, massive golden turnovers that arrive still bubbling from the fryer. Each of the nearly 20 varieties here is twisted into a slightly different shape so as to easily distinguish one type from another. Try the classic criolla, the quintessential Argentine empanada filled with ground beef, raisins, and hardboiled egg. There’s also the cheesy spinach or the piquant empanada arabe loaded with lemony ground beef and formed into a triangle that’s meant to mimic the Arab pastry fatayer.
At Beba’s Restaurant, the empanada crosses the border to Bolivia. There it evolves into the salteña, which looks a lot like a well-worn football: braided dough that runs up the center like a set of laces and a crust baked to a pigskin-like patina. It’s packed with ground beef, hardboiled egg, potatoes, peas, raisins, and many surprises. Crack one open and a torrent of juices pours forth, a slightly sweet broth that tastes of cinnamon and spices.
Huntington Beach’s El Portón Colombiano is where you’ll find the finest Colombian empanadas. Here, the usual doughy exterior is traded for a coarse cornmeal shell fried to a vivid, flaxen yellow. It’s a crisper, lighter empanada that, along with the ají (the spicy Colombian counterpart to chimichurri), creates empanada evangelists.
No meal at Empanada’s Place is complete without a few alfajores. The rich, buttery cookies are an Argentine essential: thick rounds of crumbly shortbread sandwiched around a gooey dollop of dulce de leche. Each cookie is only a few decadent bites, so grab a whole box to sate a serious sweet tooth.
3011 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa
1909 E. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim
El Portón Colombiano
8863 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach