Tag: empanadas

Oakland Eats: 9 Julio Empanada Kitchen

An Argentine opines!

9 Julio Empanada Kitchen could be described as the epitome of cultural appropriation. This Oakland restaurant is named after the Avenida 9 de Julio, the main thoroughfare in Buenos Aires and the widest avenue in the world, and serves Latin American styled empanadas. Owned by an American couple who fell in love with empanadas while studying in Costa Rica, the restaurant feels more like an ode than a theft. Plus, as someone who loves to cook all sorts of cuisines, I’m not a believer in cultural appropriation in the first place.

Empanadas seem to be having a moment in the US right now. They are basically round pastries filled with savory or sweet filling, folded in half and either fried or baked. They are a cousin to South Asian samosas, Central Asian samsas, Middle Eastern/East African sambusas and a sibling to Levantine fatay. Andalusians introduced them to Latin America and the rest of the Spanish empire, and you now can find them as far away as Guam. No country, however, is as fond of empanadas as Argentina, and most Argentinians would consider them – along with asado and milanesas – to be our national dish. You can find them at practically every bakery in Argentina – and there are bakeries in almost every block – and in specialty empanada stores. The latter are also showing up in the US. The Bay Area has long had several Argentine empanada shops.

9 Julio, however, is going for more of a fusion concept. They use the wheat flour, saucer-sized empanada shells most common in Argentina but with fillings inspired by the cuisines of the other Latin American countries. Their selection of empanadas is rather limited – they had six savory and two sweet when we visited -, but they do have a couple of other entrees as well. The empanadas are baked, rather than fry, and you can buy them uncooked and bake them yourself. If you do, I recommend that you brush them with egg wash and sprinkle some sugar on them. Empanadas are $4 each, $2 for the small dessert ones. I think 3 empanadas make a meal, but my friends all ordered just 2 each.

9 Julio is a smallish, very casual place. You order at the counter, get your sodas from a machine and wait for your name to be called. Most people seem to get their empanadas to go, so it’s easy to find seating, at least for dinner. Counter service was very friendly, and the owner checked on us at some point. Of note: 9 Julio doesn’t accept cash – you must pay with a credit or debit card. I’m personally bothered by businesses that don’t take cash, as I feel they discriminate against people who don’t have credit or debit cards , a group that includes younger people, low income people, immigrants and the unhoused. Given that they sell a rather low-priced product that would likely be popular with those of lower income, I can only think that they are purposely trying to limit who shops at their shop.

The shells

9 Julio has pretty standard white flour empanada shells, which they say the make in house. The shells are fine, but I think they need a tad more salt. I found them to not be as flavorful as I prefer them. Consistency wise they are pretty typical; I personally prefer the more phyllo dough one which La Salteña introduced now decades ago.

It tried the following empanadas – in addition to the ones I ate at the restaurant, I got a few to take home. Empanada shells lose their flakiness when microwaved, but these ones held up pretty well.

Cuban Picadillo

Cuban picadillo is very similar to the traditional Argentine ground beef empanada filling but is more flavorful. It’s indeed very similar to the filling I use myself for empanadas. 9 Julio’s Cuban picadillo empanadas were described as having “ground beef, tomatoes, green bell peppers, onions, green olives, golden raisins, & capers.” They were quite good – even if not as good as mine. I felt the filling was missing some umami, perhaps they need more tomatoes? Still, they’re perfectly acceptable empanadas – which is quite a lot for me to say as an Argentine.

Jamaican Beef

This empanada had “ground beef, onions, scallions, scotch bonnet peppers, & yellow curry.” I didn’t feel it was very different to the Cuban one, but it was spicier. My husband particularly liked it as he dislikes both olives and raisins and appreciates spice. He thought it was very tasty.

Chicken Rojo

This was described as having “braised chicken, onions, red bell peppers, tomatoes, & guajillo chili sauce.” I was quite good but I also felt the filling was missing something, perhaps as simple as more time to rest or a bit more reduction time. Or who knows? Maybe just a tad more salt. The umami component was almost there, I could feel it on the back of my tongue but not quite making it to the forefront. Still, it was perfectly acceptable.

Mushroom & Onion

I liked this “wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, & fresh herbs” empanada, but I felt it needed more caramelized onions. The mushrooms were quite good and only a little rubbery. It’s a great option for vegetarians.

Apples & Dulce de Leche

The sweet empanadas are about half the size of regular empanadas and cost half as much. I didn’t have much hopes for the apples and dulce de leche empanada, but it was recommended by the cashier. Alas, I was right. Apples and dulce de leche don’t work well together. The flavors don’t combine at all. To make it worse, the apples had cinnamon in them, a flavor that definitely doesn’t work with dulce de leche.

Pineapple Rum

I liked this empanada better. The pineapple wasn’t too sweet and it was overall a tasty bite. Still, I didn’t like it enough to order it again.

Most of us just had water or soda with dinner, but my friend Elektra ordered the Guava Beer and she liked it. I thought it tasted like beer mixed with guava juice, and it definitely wasn’t my thing.

In all, we had a really nice experience. The empanadas are not mind blowing, but they are competent and I’d have them again. That said, 9 Julio’s anti-cash policy lives a very bitter taste in my mouth and that alone might prevent me from returning.

9 Julio Empanada Kitchen
5239 Claremont Ave, Suite A
Oakland, CA

Louisiana Eats: Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Natchitoches’ version of empanadas could use a better shell

Natchitoches (pronounced “Knock-a-dish”) is famous for two things: its myriad of B&B’s and its meat pies. These oversized empanadas were likely introduced by the Spaniards and were cooked in family kitchens exclusively until 1967 when James Lasyone, a former butcher, opened Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant and slowly gained regional fame. Today, many restaurants in Natchitoches and southern Louisiana serve Natchitoches meat pies, and there is an annual festival celebrating them. Though we weren’t hungry after breakfast, we had to stop by Lasyone’s on our way out of Natchitoches to give them a try.

As mentioned, Natchitoches meat pies are just oversized empanadas – perhaps 50% larger than Argentine ones -, fried on peanut oil, rather than baked. I usually prefer fried empanadas, though I bake them at home to avoid deep frying. Lasyone’s offers only two kinds of empanadas: a meat pie made with 4 parts beef to 1 part pork and a crawfish one.

We liked both. The meat pie ($7) had a very flavorful, tasty filling. The meat had the texture of knife chopped beef rather than ground, and it didn’t have noticeable chunks of fat. Mike particularly liked the crawfish pie ($9), which he found rich and flavorful.

The shell, however, while somewhat flaky, was not chewy enough. It lacked he flexibility of a good fried empanada dough. Though obviously, as an Argentine, I’m really nitpicking here. The point is that both were very good empanadas.

I felt, however, that they were too expensive for what they were. I’m glad we tried them, but I wouldn’t rush to get them again at those prices.

Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant also serves a full menu of Southern breakfast and lunch dishes. Service was fine, though the waitress expressed surprise we were only ordering the meat pies. You order at the table and pay on your way out. The restaurant is very casual, very much like what you’d expect of a little, no-frills breakfast place anywhere in the country.

Lasyone's Meat Pie Restaurant
622 Second St.
Natchitoches, LA
(318) 352.3353
M - W: 7am-2pm
Th - Sa: 7am-3pm

NYC Food Adventures: Cancun Deli & Grocery

Notes from a New York City Foodie Trip
Christopher Rios mural

Yes, the empanadas make it worth a visit

During our brief trip to NYC, we took a tour of the outer boroughs. We visited Harlem, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn, and we stopped for food twice. In the Bronx, we purportedly stopped to see a mural of Christopher Rios, a young rapper from the neighborhood who had met an early death. But really, the point was to visit Cancun Deli & Grocery, kitty corner from the mural.

I was happy to stop at Cancun for a couple of reasons. One, is that one of the typical foodie cultural experiences to have in NYC is to stop at a bodega. The second was their empanadas. They were mentioned in glowing terms in many of the reviews of the tour. Apparently, it is indeed visits from tour groups that keep Cancun Deli open – the enterprising owners started giving empanada samples to tour guides that came to visit the mural, and they got hooked. Now they have several tours stopping by daily.

Cancun’s empanadas are made by hand (though by now, they may be assembled by machine) by the owner,  Nathalie Rodriguez, a Dominican immigrant who learned to make empanadas by watching YouTube videos. After tasting them, I can say she found her calling. The fried empanadas, served warm, had a thin, crunchy tasty shell and a generous amount of filling. I ordered the Korean beef empanada and Mike had the standard beef empanada. Mike liked his empanada, which was quite flavorful, but we both loved mine. I don’t think there was much to it, it was basically a bulgogi empanada, which is a brilliant, brilliant idea that I’ll have to try myself (though, while fried empanadas are usually better than oven-baked ones, I’m not a fan of deep frying).

In all, the stop at Cancun was great, and if you happen to be in the neighborhood – or take a tour of the Bronx – make sure you grab an empanada there.

Cancun Deli & Grocery
908 E 163rd St
The Bronx, NYC
(718) 676-9765
7 AM - 10 PM

NYC Food Adventures: Empanada Mama

Notes from a New York City Foodie Trip

Have I been dethroned? Empanada Mama does make a great empanada.

Everyone who knows me, knows that I love to cook. And anyone that knows me well, knows that my specialty are beef empanadas. It’s what I take to potlucks when I’m feeling generous (it’s pretty time consuming to close them) and I’ve been known to even auction them off at charity events. Empanadas – pastry shells filled with meats and/or vegetables and then folded in half into half-moon shapes – are a specialty of Argentina, my home country. I grew up eating them at least once a week, and you can find them in almost every restaurant, café and bakery in Argentina. Indeed, during our last trip my husband managed to find a café where they weren’t in the menu – he just assumed they were so he ordered them – and the waiter just went around the corner to a bakery and picked one up for him.

But empanadas, made with an endless variety of fillings, are eaten, to a greater or lesser extent, throughout Latin America, and South America in particular. They came to the continent with the Spaniards, who are presumed to have inherited them from the Moors – beyond that, we find filled pastries under different names throughout much of the world. And it’s no wonder. Empanadas and their cousins are convenient, as you can eat them on the go without need of silverware, they are relatively cheap, in addition to delicious. Even within Latin American countries, there are a myriad of varieties of empanadas, differing both on the pastry and the fillings used.

It’s thus not surprising that New York City, a town where immigrants and descendants of immigrants from the world over congregate, would have restaurants specializing on empanadas. Empanada Mama is a Colombian restaurant, but among the 40 empanadas they offer, they have flavors from all over the world.
While fried corn flour empanadas are most common in Colombia, Empanada Mama’s menu mostly emphasizes fried wheat flour empanadas, though they have a few fried corn flour and baked wheat flour ones. At home, I always bake my empanadas. I don’t have a deep fryer and I do not like deep frying on a pan. In addition, baked empanadas keep longer and you can eat those with meat fillings at room temperature and microwave those with cheese or sweet fillings. But I do believe fried empanadas are tastier, and that’s what I always order at restaurants. At Empanada Mama, they did not disappoint.

While Empanada Mama serves other dishes in addition to empanadas – their nachos and arepas were tempting – we were there to eat empanadas, so we stuck to those. We weren’t terribly hungry after that morning’s breakfast at La Grande Boucherie, so we shared three savory empanadas and two sweet ones.

El toro empanada

The El Toro empanada (braised oxtail with Jamaican pepper, chipotle, red wine, onion, carrot, thyme, and maduros – $4.80) was probably my favorite. It had the intensity of flavor I like to find in empanadas, without being particularly spicy. I’d definitely order it again.


Mike wanted to try a traditional Colombian empanada (albeit with a wheat shell), so he went for the Shredded Beef empanada (slow-cooked beef marinated in traditional Colombian spices with onion – $4.80). He was quite happy with it. He claims he still prefers the flavor of my empanadas, but he really liked the texture of the shredded beef. I’m now thinking perhaps I should try making a ropa vieja empanada and see how that works.

My memories of the Cuban empanada (slow-roasted pork and ham with Mozzarella cheese and a touch of sofrito sauce – $4.50) are less vivid, but I do remember liking it quite a bit. The picture I took of it, however, came out very blurry, so I’m not posting it.

sweet empanadas

I’m a huge fan of cheese and fruits together – pineapple is one of my favorite toppings for pizza, and I love the cheese-and-plum soufflé empanadas at El Ladrillo, in my home city of La Plata -, so I was intrigued by both the Romeo & Juliet empanada (guava & Mozzarella cheese – $4.50) and the Caramel & Cheese Empanada ($4.50). I finally decided on the latter, and I was happy to confirm my suspicions that it would be a wonderful combination. The caramel was really dulce de leche, and it went great with the light flavored, slightly salty Mozzarella cheese. Whenever I’ve tried to make empanadas with Mozzarella, the cheese has been swallowed by the pastry and they’ve ended up hollow. Here, however, the cheese was fully present. I’m not sure if this was because of the type of pastry dough they used, because they were fried, rather than baked, or simply because the dulce de leche did something to prevent the dough from absorbing the cheese. Hoping it’s the latter, I’m going to try making them. I’ll report later on how they worked.

Mike ordered the Belgian (chocolate) & Banana Empanada ($4.50) and he wasn’t as pleased. The dark chocolate was just too intense, and I don’t think chocolate works that well with empanada pastry. Of everything we ordered that day, it’s the one thing we wouldn’t get again. While the empanadas themselves were the traditional size, they were almost overfilled, so two empanadas should satisfy a typical appetite.

We visited the Hell Kitchen’s branch of Empanada Mama, but they have three other locations in Manhattan – all open 24 hours, so no matter when you get the munchies, you’ll be able to get one. While some of the locations seem like take out spots, the Hell Kitchen restaurant offers ample seating in the back and waiter service. Their menus are, annoyingly, online through a QR code, but they do have printed menus if you ask for them. Service was friendly and efficient, and while the restaurant lacks much of an ambiance, it’s comfortable enough. If we ever go back to NYC, I’d be happy to hit Empanada Mama again.

Empanada Mama
765 9th Ave,
New York City, NY 10010
(212) 698-9008

Goya Beef Empanadas Review

I got these frozen beef empanadas by mistake in an Instacart order. They come 4 to a package, each individually wrapped. They are on the small side, each weighing about 2.5 oz. You are supposed to deep fry them, but I air fried them instead after spraying them with olive oil. The ones in the photo were cooked for 8 minutes at the default setting, but you can add a couple of minutes more to get them darker.

The little empanadas do pack a lot of flavor – both natural and “enhanced” -; while they don’t seem to have vinegar, they taste like they do. They’re aren’t bad, but not something that I would seek out. The dough is on the salty side as well, and I can only imagine it’s better if deep fried.

In all, I wouldn’t buy these even if they weren’t Goya brand, as they aren’t that special. But I’ll finish the box.

Note: the link to Instacart is a referral link, if you subscribed immediately after you click on it, I might get $10 credit and you would as well. You probably can get a better deal elsewhere, though. Links on the margins may also be referral links, check.

Meal Kit Review: Plated’s Argentine Beef Empanadas with Chimichurri and Monterey Jack

Rating 7/10

Plated's Argentine Beef Empanadas

I am Argentine and have made empanadas zillions of times, so I can tell you these are not traditional “Argentine beef empanadas.” Argentine empanadas don’t have jalapeño chili (I never even saw a jalapeño until I came to the US) or adobo seasoning. Most importantly, they are not eaten with chimichurri, a sauce which is reserved for asado. But my own empanada recipe has been bastardized enough that I can’t complain about lack of authenticity.

The fact is that these empanadas were pretty tasty. I did like the meat filling quite a bit and appreciated the light spiciness of the adobo filling. What I didn’t like were the shells. They were tough and thick and too crispy. My daughter and husband complained as well. The problem is that Plated sent empanada shells meant to be fried, not baked. I understand the confusion, nowhere on the package it says these are frying shells – though the one recipe it features, calls for the empanadas to be fried. And looking at the ingredients, which include sugar, confirms their intended use.

A second complaint is that Plated calls for the empanadas to be brushed with olive oil. I tried it on the one in the front, and it was a failure. Much better is brushing them with either milk or an eggwash and sprinkling sugar on them.

Finally, the chimichurri wasn’t really chimichurri. For one, it didn’t have oregano, an essential ingredient. But the real issue is that it didn’t go with the empanadas at all. Really, empanadas don’t need a dip or anything like that – they just need the right kind of shells.

On the plus side, while the meal kit was supposed to make 8 empanadas, there were enough ingredients to make 10, so it was enough for 3 of us.

I paid a tad over $13 for this kit, and I think it was well priced for that.

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