By Jonathan Nassar
When I try to explain what an empanada is, I don’t normally have a lot of trouble – think of a hot pocket shaped like a half-moon. Or if you’re familiar with British food, think of a pasty. Or maybe think of a Jamaican patty. A lot of cultures have similar analogues: the calzone, the samosa. Every country makes their empanada variant differently – some are sweet, some are savory, some use a more flaky bread, and so on. What I grew up with is different than from what you experienced – and I love the diversity of approaches different cultures take. If I seem excited about empanadas, it’s because I think they’re a great comfort food. I grew up eating a variety of them – Venezuelan, Argentine, Cuban, Mexican – and the empanadas were always the first to disappear from the dinner table.
And so I also love it when people stretch the empanada possibilities even more. Thankfully, I can visit the Empanada Company on TC Jester W, a little south of 34th. It’s a small but well-kept space: walk in, order at the counter, and sit down anywhere or take your empanadas to go. The empanadas have a definite Mexican-style, but with some non-traditional flavors added. Aside from the classic fruit empanadas that you might find in other Mexican bakeries around Houston (of which they have plenty of flavors), they also have nutella, guayaba, and cajeta. Going further, they have savory empanadas such as brisket, mole chicken, and a variety of breakfast empanadas stuffed with egg. Most of the options fall into the $2-3 range, so you can get a variety as a meal.
For those who work downtown, there’s an empanada place in the downtown tunnels as well, called 5411 Empanadas. 5411 Empanadas is a Chicago transplant, serving a small but tasty menu of Argentine empanadas for breakfast and for lunch, including combos and dessert empanadas. Argentine empanadas have a lighter, slightly more chewy crust, compared with Mexican empanadas which are a bit more bready. As with any lunch place in downtown, try to avoid the lunch rush or expect to wait in line. The little tunnel location definitely does not have enough seating for everyone.
There are a few other places around town where you can get an empanada, usually a restaurant that offers one or two as an appetizer. More nearby places to get a variety of empanadas makes me happy, I hope to see more!