It’s easy to overlook the 26-year-old Empanada’s Place if you’re just driving by. Located at 3811 Sawtelle Blvd., right around the corner from a liquor store and blocks of residential housing, its store front is about as long as a dorm room.
But the moment I walked through the door, which is framed by a giant wreath of tropical plant leaves, and took in the small cafe-style tables and shelves stocked with dulce de leche snacks, I knew I was in the right place for Argentine cooking.
Not that I’ve had the opportunity to visit Buenos Aires, but I imagine some of the smaller cafes in the city resemble the main room of Empanada’s Place. There were several three-person tables jammed into the room, each with a dark blue table cloth covered with lace overlays. On the tables were red vases filled with pink and purple daisies. Framed pictures of people performing the tango and children eating empanadas lined the walls.
There are 18 different types of empanadas on the menu, split between 10 beef, chicken or pork options and 8 vegetarian options, all $3 each. In order of my favorite to least favorite, I tried the arabe, beef and corn empanadas.
Unlike the other empanadas, the arabe shell is folded into a triangle shape. It’s filled with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, herbs and lemon juice, and when you cut into it you can smell the lemon from across the table. The lemon taste is very strong, but it blends well with the beef and spices.
In the beef, or cordobesa, empanada I was surprised to find pieces of hard boiled egg mixed in with the beef, green olives and potato pieces. The combination works well, especially with a scoop of chimichurri sauce (garlic, parsley, oil, vinegar and spices).
Of all the empanadas on the menu, the corn empanada ““ filled with sweet corn kernels, mozzarella cheese and white sauce ““ sounded the least appetizing to me, but I was curious and ordered it anyway.
I even offered my friend a piece of the corn empanada for a piece of his (the arabe). He said I could try some of his, but he didn’t want any of mine. I ended up liking it, though the corn was too sweet and didn’t match the consistency of the rest of the empanada.
All of the empanadas come in a fried (but not greasy) dough shell. It’s soft on the inside, but flaky and crispy on the outside.
I now consider it one of my life goals to try all of the empanadas at Empanada’s Place, but the criolla ““ filled with ground beef, raisins, green onions and eggs ““ is at the top of my list.
I didn’t want to try anything marketed as good for first timers, or “the most typical Argentine empanada,” as the criolla is described in the restaurant’s menu. I tend to disregard restaurant employees when they recommend something for first timers, even though I’m always trying things for the first time. My friend, who doesn’t have the same stubbornness, said the raisins added a slight sweetness to the empanada without detracting from its overall taste.
We ended the night with pastries ““ small rolls and cookies (alfajores) filled with dulce de leche, a caramel-like spread.
It wasn’t until we had dessert that I considered the other options on the menu. There’s also a decent selection of chicken, beef, steak and vegetarian sandwiches, though I didn’t see anyone order them while I was there. And really, I’m not surprised. There’s a reason it’s called Empanada’s Place.
Email John at [email protected] with any recommendations, questions, comments or concerns. “Global Grub” runs every Friday.