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10 Places to Eat Excellent Empanadas

August 12, 2013
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by Danya Henninger

Empanadas are thought to have originated on the Iberian peninsula as early as the 1500s (so, way before Hot Pockets were a thing). As Portuguese and Spanish explorers settled the New World, they brought these dough-wrapped pies with them. Empanadas have since spread throughout South and Central America, with each country adopting its own signature style for the delectable snack. Nearly all the different types can be found in Philadelphia - check out 10 best bets in a variety of styles in the slide show below.

The Twisted Tail

Chef Leo Forneas does great things with the huge charcoal grill at this Headhouse Square bourbon and blues joint, but if you get one appetizer to complement your charred bites, make it these perfect pockets of bubbling pulled pork laced with cheddar. The empanadas don’t even need the roasted tomatillo chimichurri sauce on the side, which is fine, because it’s good enough to spoon up on its own ($8).

509 S. Second St.; 215-558-2471

Cantina Los Caballitos

It’s tough to decide which of the two empanadas at this East Passyunk margarita sanctuary is more satisfying, though they are very different. House cornmeal dough surrounds either pork picadillo, juicy and studded with raisins, or wild mushrooms layered with oozing pepper jack. Whichever you choose, ask for the huitlacoche “mojo” sauce on the side for a rich vinegary dip ($9).

1651 E. Passyunk Ave.; 215-755-3550

East Girard Gastropub

Chef Rob Holloway has tons of seafood experience - he previously cooked at Fish and Little Fish - so he wanted to stuff the empanadas at this Fishtown pub with something from the ocean. He started with a lobster and crab version, but they sold so well he had to devote a cook’s entire shift to shelling lobster. The current iteration may be easier to produce, but it’s just as tasty. Hot nuggets of sweet crab and kernels of corn are complemented by mango salsa and get a spicy kick from chile mayo on the side ($11).

200 E. Girard Ave.; 267-761-9343

Good Dog Bar

The truffled cheesesteak empanadas are the single best-selling item on this Center City tavern’s menu - in fact, over the course of our photo visit, they were ordered by every table in the second-floor dining room. Four airy-looking purses of dough belie the rich, cheesy and meaty interiors. If you feel an urge to drink the ramekin of bourbon-infused Rogue Chocolate Stout dipping sauce, you aren’t alone ($11).

224 S. 15th St.; 215-985-9600

Las Bugambilias

Nestled on a plate of salsa verde and topped with pico de gallo and salsa rojo, the empanadas at this South Street gem are different from all the others we found in Philadelphia. The golden crescents here are almost like thin-walled tamales, with a corn crust that melts easily in your mouth. Choose between beef and cheese or mushroom for your duo of satisfying stuffed pockets ($10).

148 South St.; 215-922-3190

Los Amigos

Formerly a Mexican mini-mart, this grocery shop at Ninth and Montrose has added hot food to go, all made in-house. Definitely try the tamales, but also ask if there are any empanadas left - they’re stuffed and fried to order. Fillings change, but a recent visit brought what’s known as a Hawaiian variety - ham and pineapple sandwiched between melting swiss inside each large and crispy shell ($5).

927 S. Ninth St.; 215-625-0528

Bar Ferdinand

“I keep wanting to replace these on the menu, but we would hear screams of disappointment from our guests,” says Aila Devowe, sous chef at this Northern Liberties tapas house. Chef David Ansill is known for packing amazing flavor into small bites, and these bacon-and-date-stuffed triangles nearly overwhelm, despite their petite size. You’ll clean your plate anyway, they’re that good ($7).

1030 N. Second St.; 215-923-1313

Gavin’s Cafe

This petite Argentinian eatery hidden at the west end of Pine Street holds frequent “empanada fests,” featuring chef Jezebel Careaga’s traditional pouches of spiced beef, chicken, spinach or a variety of other fillings. Each is baked with an egg wash glaze and will run you just $2.50 or less at the BYO cafe.

2536 Pine St.; 267-519-2494

Taco Mondo

More impressive than the super-flaky shell and creamy fillings on these ever-changing empanadas is the fact that they come from a food truck. It’s not exactly a surprise - Mike Sultan and Carolyn Nguyen can be counted on to wow with gourmet-quality cuisine from both this mobile kitchen and the Street Food Philly truck - but the on-the-go satisfaction is hard to beat ($7 for two).

Grocery

Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran’s retail shop in Midtown Village offers another option for empanadas on the go, in this case of the baked and glazed style. A recent visit to the gourmet market brought pork- and crab-stuffed versions, best toasted to a crisp when you get back home.

101 S. 13th St.; 215-922-5252

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