Cafe Society

Three Denver spots that serve authentic empanadas

When I left South America, I brought boxes of frozen empanadas with me, terrified that I'd run out of the food I'd eaten at least three or four times a week for months. Fortunately, the owners of a handful of spots along the Front Range serve fairly authentic versions of their homelands' empanadas. The highlights:

Empanadas Argentinas, 16th and Curtis streets

The Empanadas Argentinas cart set up shop this summer on the 16th Street Mall, where it continues to serve traditional Argentine empanadas made with flour-based dough that the owner imports from Argentina via Miami. He fills these pockets with ham and cheese, ground beef and green olives, or savory marinated chicken, then bakes them on the spot. Argentine empanadas are smaller than the Venezuelan type; three or four make a meal. Empanadas Argentinas sells them for a couple of bucks a pop.

Pupusas Sabor Hispano, 4500 Broadway, Boulder

Not surprisingly, the main draw at this restaurant in north Boulder are the El Salvadoran pupusas, griddled circles of cornmeal plump with fillings that include cheese and fiddlehead ferns. You can get the same fillings in an empanada — essentially a corn tortilla that's stuffed, then folded, pressed shut and fried until crispy. In El Salvador, the word "empanada" refers almost exclusively to a dessert filled with plaintains; these empanadas are more like the Mexican version — which makes sense, since the owner of Pupusas Sabor Hispano is a native of Chihuahua.

Emporio do Brasil, 8020 Federal Boulevard, Westminster

In Brazil, the stuffed pastry that is most similar to an empanada is the risole, a flour-based wrapper filled with beef, chicken or sweet corn, then breaded and deep-fried. Emporio do Brasil, a little Brazilian market in Westminster, features shelves stocked with items such as cookies and special rice and pao di queijo — a roll stuffed with cheese that I've been searching for in this country since I first found it in Rio five years ago. Even better, Emporio do Brasil offers an authentic, aromatic, ground-beef-filled risole, made by one of the market's employees and served on a paper plate with a bottle of hot sauce on the side.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk