The log-cabin look of this spot (near a bustling intersection that also boasts the original Tamale Kitchen) is a little odd, but you forget the exterior once you walk inside and see the case of stuffed pastries, each closed with a slightly different seam, pinched or rolled or crimped to indicate what's inside.
We decided to sample the full range of vegetarian (but not vegan-friendly, sadly) options in the case; the dozen you see above include three corn empanadas in the upper left-hand corner, followed clockwise by one mushroom empanada, two caprese-style empanadas, three spinach empanadas and three vegetable empanadas. The mushroom and caprese styles were on special when we stopped by, and they're definitely worth trying if you see them in the case. The mushroom was stuffed with sliced 'shrooms coated in a savory gravy, and was hearty and satisfying. The caprese, with basil, tomato and mozzarella, was a beautiful melding of traditional Italian flavors in an Argentinian style. We'd been hoping to try the eggplant parmigiana, but the store was sold out; still, these specialty offerings made up for that disappointment.
The store regularly carries corn, vegetable and spinach empanadas; the corn was our favorite, with sweet kernels in a creamy, delicious tomato sauce. The vegetable also had a tomato-based sauce, with zucchini, onions, carrots, peppers and spices. The spinach was like a south-of-the-border take on spanikopita, with chopped spinach folded in the pastry.
There's cheese in many of the empanadas and the dough is not vegan, but if you can stretch your diet to accommodate a little dairy and egg, it's well worth a trip to Lakewood. Fair warning: Three empanadas are more than enough to make a meal, so bring some friends or several days' worth of appetite if you plan to order as much as we did.
Maria Empanada is open from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. every day but Sunday; call 303-934-2221 or visit www.mariaempanada.com.