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Empanada Kitchen bakes hand pies on the Boulevard

A farmers market vendor adds empanada restaurant number two

Chicken empanada on the left, beef on the right
Chicken empanada on the left, beef on the right

Pierogi, sambusa, calzone, pupusa: the world has come up with a lot of cool sounding words to describe what the English would call a pasty, and what we here in America might rather mundanely call a “hand pie.” I’d argue the best known variation of savory stuffed pastry is the most fun to pronounce: empanada. Made famous in Argentina (by way of Spain), the meat and/or vegetable filled morsels are easy to find in specialty shops around Buenos Aires. And the same could be said about San Diego these days, thanks in part to Empanada Kitchen.

Place

Empanada Kitchen North Park

2855 El Cajon Blvd Suite 3, San Diego

It's one of those farmers market success stories. After a couple years as a vendor at the North Park weekly market, Empanada Kitchen upgraded to a brick and mortar shop downtown in early 2018. This fall, the business grew again, expanding into a second storefront location; this one back in North Park.

A chicken empanada, according to the folds in its crust

The new spot is found on El Cajon, The Boulevard, a couple short blocks west of 30th Street, in the same small strip mall home as the Heart & Trotter butcher shop. The casual counter eatery bears a similar, bright yellow design motif, and offers the same menu of empanadas found at the original location.

A new Empanada Kitchen location on El Cajon Boulevard

Which is to say, baked empanadas. Traditionally, they may be fried as well, but sticking to the oven here results in empanadas that more closely resemble single-serve pies, from the texture of the crust to the moist interior. If you really know a lot about empanadas, you might be able to tell which filling a specific one contains just by looking at it; subtle differences in how the empanadas are folded offer clues. For example, the beef empanada has sort of a half moon shape, with a braid running along its curved edge, while the chicken empanada replaces braids with a series of sequential folds. Conversely, the ham and cheese empanada is round, with a ridge circling its top edge.

A small counter shop with lots of empanadas

Most of them cost $3.50 apiece, though you can make a meal of three for $9.50. The ground beef and shredded chicken in the aforementioned empanadas are stewed with minced vegetables, and are scrumptious. I must assume the same about the $4.50 lamb option that always seems to be sold out before I arrive. However, this is one of the rare street food shops that pays more than lip service to vegetarians. Meatless options include a caprese empanada (with basil, tomato, and mozzarella); mushroom and goat cheese; sweet corn and basil; and the vegan ratatouille empanada, which is stuffed with finely diced and roasted onions, peppers, garlic, zucchini, and eggplant. Naturally, all of the above go well with the house chimichurri (though I’m partial to the mild heat of a spicy version).

A glossary of empanada shapes at Empanada Kitchen

If you ask me, the coolest thing about a dedicated empanada restaurant is that you can shop your appetite. One makes for a quick, grab and go snack. Two fills you up about the same as a small sandwich. Mix and match three or more empanadas and you start to enter balanced meal territory, without any need for a fork.

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Chicken empanada on the left, beef on the right
Chicken empanada on the left, beef on the right

Pierogi, sambusa, calzone, pupusa: the world has come up with a lot of cool sounding words to describe what the English would call a pasty, and what we here in America might rather mundanely call a “hand pie.” I’d argue the best known variation of savory stuffed pastry is the most fun to pronounce: empanada. Made famous in Argentina (by way of Spain), the meat and/or vegetable filled morsels are easy to find in specialty shops around Buenos Aires. And the same could be said about San Diego these days, thanks in part to Empanada Kitchen.

Place

Empanada Kitchen North Park

2855 El Cajon Blvd Suite 3, San Diego

It's one of those farmers market success stories. After a couple years as a vendor at the North Park weekly market, Empanada Kitchen upgraded to a brick and mortar shop downtown in early 2018. This fall, the business grew again, expanding into a second storefront location; this one back in North Park.

A chicken empanada, according to the folds in its crust

The new spot is found on El Cajon, The Boulevard, a couple short blocks west of 30th Street, in the same small strip mall home as the Heart & Trotter butcher shop. The casual counter eatery bears a similar, bright yellow design motif, and offers the same menu of empanadas found at the original location.

A new Empanada Kitchen location on El Cajon Boulevard

Which is to say, baked empanadas. Traditionally, they may be fried as well, but sticking to the oven here results in empanadas that more closely resemble single-serve pies, from the texture of the crust to the moist interior. If you really know a lot about empanadas, you might be able to tell which filling a specific one contains just by looking at it; subtle differences in how the empanadas are folded offer clues. For example, the beef empanada has sort of a half moon shape, with a braid running along its curved edge, while the chicken empanada replaces braids with a series of sequential folds. Conversely, the ham and cheese empanada is round, with a ridge circling its top edge.

A small counter shop with lots of empanadas

Most of them cost $3.50 apiece, though you can make a meal of three for $9.50. The ground beef and shredded chicken in the aforementioned empanadas are stewed with minced vegetables, and are scrumptious. I must assume the same about the $4.50 lamb option that always seems to be sold out before I arrive. However, this is one of the rare street food shops that pays more than lip service to vegetarians. Meatless options include a caprese empanada (with basil, tomato, and mozzarella); mushroom and goat cheese; sweet corn and basil; and the vegan ratatouille empanada, which is stuffed with finely diced and roasted onions, peppers, garlic, zucchini, and eggplant. Naturally, all of the above go well with the house chimichurri (though I’m partial to the mild heat of a spicy version).

A glossary of empanada shapes at Empanada Kitchen

If you ask me, the coolest thing about a dedicated empanada restaurant is that you can shop your appetite. One makes for a quick, grab and go snack. Two fills you up about the same as a small sandwich. Mix and match three or more empanadas and you start to enter balanced meal territory, without any need for a fork.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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