The empanada is one of civilization's greatest culinary achievements. Self-contained, portable and
multi-faceted, empanadas offer cheap sustenance and nearly limitless variety. Combinations of meats, cheese, vegetables and even sweet fillings come swaddled in flaky, crispy and steamy wrappers, ready to satisfy cravings that stretch from breakfast to late-night snacking. April 8 is National Empanada Day, but Denver's restaurants offer an international treasure trove of the baked or fried treats every day of the week. Here's our list of the ten best empanada joints in Denver, in alphabetical order.
6625 Leetsdale Drive
Colombian empanadas are made with a corn-flour shell deep-fried to a golden-brown crunch. The small, half-moon shaped version served at this east-side eatery come stuffed with a mixture of ground beef and potatoes. Let them cool a little before you take a bite or you'll likely steam your tongue. If you just can't wait, cool them off with a dunk in a thin, tangy and mild salsa. An order of six makes a good starter for two before you move on to larger entrees.
Buchi Cafe Cubano
2651 West 38th Avenue
The main draw at Buchi is definitely the Cubano sandwiches, but if you're in the mood for something lighter, the empanadas make a great mid-morning snack, especially with a cup of strong, sweet cafe con leche. These empanadas are made with wheat flour, so they come out light and flaky, almost like miniature hand pies stuffed with juicy chicken and served with a smooth, verdant chimichurri. Buchi opens at 8 a.m. daily, so you can take care of your craving first thing in the morning.
Candela Latin Kitchen
1691 Central Street
The recipe for Candela's empanadas — available with either chicken or mushroom filling — comes from chef Jesse Vega's Puerto Rican grandmother. The fried appetizers are soulful and satisfying, but resist the temptation to order a second round and instead taste your way through the rest of Vega's Puerto Rican and Mexican offerings.
Empanada Express Grill
4301 West 44th Avenue
The cuisine at Empanada Express has roots in Venezuela, so the empanadas are made with a special imported white-corn flour that makes for a light, crisp shell with a slightly fluffy interior. There are more than fifteen filling combos, from the traditional "domino" (black beans, avocado and cheese) to a rustic and hearty pabellon criollo (beans, cheese, plantains and a choice of meat), so you can return again and again to eat your way through them all.
Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cafe
12095 West Alameda Parkway, Lakewood
Like Buchi's, the empanadas at Frijoles have a pie-crust style shell — perfect for conveying both sweet and savory fillings. For lunch or dinner, go with the beef and cheese or ham and cheese options, but for something more tropical and sweet, the guava and cheese is a unique and tasty pairing with coffee.
1443 Chester Street, Aurora
The empanadas in Honduras are called pastelitos; they're crunchy pockets made with corn masa that make for a great starter sided with a cold beer. The filling is nothing more than lightly seasoned ground beef and onion, so the crackly, corn-flavored shell does most of the work. Hit them with a few drops of hot sauce or fish some housemade pickled onions from the jar at your table to add a zesty kick.
1417 South Broadway
What's hotter than a handheld empanada? A crispy Colombian empanada straight out of the fryer at La Chiva. Chef/owner Jorge Aguirre makes his crispy shells from fresh corn and stuffs them with beef, chicken, pork, cheese or a hearty veggie mix. The fresh corn flavor adds a savory-sweet component not found in most other empanadas.
Lazo Empanadas/Rincon Argentino
1319 22nd Street, 303-296-6710
2525 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-442-4133
Rincon Argentino has been going strong in Boulder for more than five years, serving a wide variety of empanadas in the style of Bueno Aires cafes; the various shapes and crimpings serve as outward signs of the fillings inside, a wide variety. Lazo, which opened in the Ballpark neighborhood last year, is a more streamlined version, with a pared-down menu of tender, flaky empanadas.
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Lorena Cantarovici has turned Argentinian empanadas into a successful and growing business, moving her tiny bakery to a sunny and spacious cafe on South Broadway in 2014 before adding outposts in the Denver Tech Center and Stanley Marketplace. The variety of shapes and fillings is almost overwhelming, from Italian-inspired Caprese empanadas to dessert versions that are like perfect little bites of pie. Espresso drinks and South American red wines add to the pure pleasure of a stop at any of the three locations.
Work & Class
2500 Larimer Street
Chef Dana Rodriguez makes Mexican empanadas using blue-corn masa, giving the shell an almost purple hue and an earthy flavor. The filling is a blend of stretchy Oaxacan cheese, squash and zucchini, for a light bite enhanced by a luscious smoked tomato sauce. They're hard to beat for a fried snack that doesn't feel greasy or heavy.