Just about every culture in the world makes some kind of savory stuffed pastry, and in South America, it's the empanada that's king. No two countries make the same type of hot pocket; whether an empanada is deep-fried or baked and what it's stuffed with is a clear market of where it came from.
This city showcases an array of different varieties of empanadas from several different countries, but here, in no particular order, are Denver's five best empanadas from South America.
Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cafe, 4 West Alameda Parkway, Lakewood This beachy strip mall joint serves up all several Cuban specialties, including the island's version of empanadas, which are fried. The restaurant features a case that's perpetually stocked with several flavors of the snack, including ham and cheese and the ropa vieja -- succulent, spicy shredded beef. But we're partial to the guava and cheese because the crackly pastry encases a particularly delicious molten combination of sweet guava paste and tart cream cheese. Maria Empanada5209 West Mississippi Avenue, Lakewood It took Lorena Cantarovici -- the owner of Maria Empanada, which I review this week -- a long time to adapt her mother's Argentine empanada recipes and make it work in Colorado, but she finally mastered it, and with excellent results. Her baked pastries feature crusts at once brittle and chewy encasing spicy green olive-studded shredded beef, juicy shredded chicken, gooey ham and cheese and, our very favorite, sweet corn infused with the savory earthiness of mild bell peppers and a hint of heat from crushed red-pepper flakes. Empanada Express Grill, 2600 East Street, Golden The Empanada Express Grill got its start as a street cart hawking arepas and Venezuelan empanadas, puffy half moon pockets made of corn flour that are crispy on the outside and crumbly within. The place offers more than a dozen traditional fillings, including black beans with sweet plantain, cheese and avocado, carnitas and fish. But the one you really shouldn't miss is the Pabellon Criollo empanada, a pocket filled with tender, juicy braised beef, black beans, plantains and cheese. Emporio do Brasil, 8020 Federal Blvd # 3, Westminster Emporio do Brasil is really a little Brazilian market in Westminster, and it features shelves stocked with items such as cookies and special rice and pao di queijo -- a roll stuffed with cheese that's a favorite street food item down south. But it also offers an authentic, aromatic, ground-beef-filled risole, the Brazilian version of an empanada, breaded and deep-fried by one of the market's employees and served on a paper plate with a bottle of hot sauce on the side. Buenos Aires Pizzeria, 1319 22nd Street Argentine-style pizza is the focus at Buenos Aires Pizzeria, a downtown restaurant where the walls are covered with kitsch and soccer jerseys from South America. But that doesn't mean you should ignore the empanadas. The spot turns out about twenty varieties featuring popular Argentine fillings, including spicy beef; tomato, basil and mozzarella; shredded chicken; eggplant and, yes, corn. The little pockets are baked until golden, and the chewy pastry crust gives way to a cascade of filling.
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