Photos: Los Pastes opens in Aurora with a spread of Mexican empanadas

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When Celina Reyes moved to Denver ten years ago from Hidalgo, Mexico, she had no intention of opening a restaurant, but over time, Reyes's husband, who was crazy about her cooking, persuaded his wife that Aurora would be the ideal place to peddle her Mexican empanadas, which are called pastes (the name comes from Cornish pasties) in Hidalgo, where the popular baked pastries are served in back alleys throughout the State.

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"Pastes and empanadas are essentially the same thing, but empanadas are a bit thicker and flakier and often have sweeter fillings, but with pastes, which are really popular in Hidalgo the emphasis is on savory filings -- though we also do sweet ones -- and a thinner crust," explains Reyes. And pastes, unlike empanadas, she adds, aren't often found in the United States.

Los Pastes, her restaurant and bakery, squats in a strip mall, and while it doesn't look like much from the exterior, the inside, permeated by the scent of butter, showcases wooden shelves and faux red-bricked and canary-yellow walls bedecked with antique wooden gardening tools and knickknacks -- and it's nothing short of adorable. Seating -- a community table and a few stools that peer over Parker Road -- is sparse, but Reyes says she's planning to add more tables in the future. A TV displays a photo stream of Mexican street scenes, and a magazine rack yields plenty of reading material while you wait for the golden pastes to emerge from the oven.

A kaleidoscopic chalkboard menu, complete with drawings, highlights the pastes, of which there are a dozen, including a chicken mole; another with ground beef, potatoes and parsley; a beef fajita with vegetables; two with eggs; and a vegetarian paste. "We'll probably add more vegetarian pastes in the future, as well as some seasonal ones with sweet potatoes and pumpkin in the fall," says Reyes, who also turns out a duo of flavor-smacked salsas, along with housemade posole, chicken tortilla soup and a handful of salads.

The bakery is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, and Reyes also does a heavy catering trade. "My pastes are really good -- they're just like we do them in Hidalgo -- and they're not expensive, plus they're great for a large group, when you're in a hurry and want a quick bite to eat, or as a snack when you're out and about," she says.

Flip the page for a photo gallery of the space and a sampling of Reyes's food.

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