Crunchy, savory, dumpling-like empanadas are having their moment in the sun.

Stuff It, Amigo

Written by Marilyn Hawkes Category: Three Bites Issue: September 2017
Group Free
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Photo by Angelina Aragon.

Toro Latin Restaurant & Rum Bar
7575 E. Princess Dr., Scottsdale, 480-585-4848,
From beef-filled Cornish pasties to Chinese dumplings to Italian ravioli, there’s a stuffed-dough dish for virtually every culture. In Latin America and Spain, it’s called the empanada – half-moons of fried or baked wheat-flour dough packed with savory goodies. At Toro, the kitchen sends out a quartet of corn empanadas ($14, pictured) filled with fresh, puréed corn kernels, shredded mozzarella and Parmesan, and aji amarillo, a mildly spicy Peruvian pepper laced with floral notes. The restaurant imports the dough from Argentina to “make it a little more authentic,” says sous chef Fernando Fernandez, who fries the empanadas in corn oil, forming an impossibly light outer shell. To balance the sweetness of the corn, Fernandez pairs the empanada with traditional Argentinian chimichurri, a tangy mix of chopped parsley, red wine vinegar, garlic, bell peppers and a splash of olive oil.

Fuego Bistro
713 E. Palo Verde Dr., Phoenix, 602-277-1151,
Sink your fork into Fuego Bistro’s empanadas ($11) and you’ll find a flaky and buttery layer of pastry packed with cumin- and garlic-seasoned ground beef, cheddar cheese, morsels of onion and peppers, roasted Anaheim chiles and black beans. A smoky Yucatan barbecue sauce with chipotle and brown sugar tops the empanadas along with a tangy house-made pico de gallo lit up with jalapeños. The fried hand pies come two to an order and cozy up to a generous helping of Puerto Rican-style rice studded with pigeon peas and perfumed with adobo and cumin, paired with 25-ingredient black beans simmered all day on the back burner. Everything except the dough is made from scratch. 

República Empanada
204 E. First Ave., Mesa, 480-969-1343,
For those who want a broader sampling of flavors, chef Jinette Meraz offers up 23 varieties of empanadas – some sweet, some savory, each one better than the last. Among the most popular: the El Capitan ($3.95), an intriguing fusion of seasoned ground beef, potato, hard-boiled egg, green olives and golden raisins; and the Boricua pernil ($3.75), filled with juicy slow-roasted pork, fragrant rice and pigeon peas. Meraz imports her empanada dough from Uruguay; when fried, it produces a brown, crisp crust that crumbles on contact. For dessert, don’t miss the incomparable Dizzy Fig empanada ($3.75) with locally grown figs and melted mozzarella cheese cloaked in a warm and sticky South American-style dulce de leche that is wont to dribble down your chin. Napkins are not optional.

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