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Feb 21, 2010 07:19 PM

Empanada y salteña chowdown

Six intrepid hounds gathered on a rainy Sunday to sample empanadas and salteñas in a variety of Latin American styles.

We had three Argentine contenders from the Tanguito truck, El Porteño, and Venga, with beef, chicken, ham and cheese, mushroom, humita (corn and cheese), and spinach varieties. These were all $3-3.50 each with some discounts for quantity. Tanguito was a last-minute substitution when Susan discovered Chile Lindo is now closed Sundays.

Not to be outdone, Dudes in Mexico prepared beef empanadas from scratch.

Special thanks to Mariacarmen for helping organize this. Ultimately she was not able to attend but still delivered beef salteñas (Bolivia's version of empanadas) from LA and the recipe for llajua, a picante accompaniment, traditionally served spooned into the juicy handheld pies bite by bite.

Melanie brought dessert in the form of empanadas de leche from El Salvador restaurant.

Wines included a 2007 tempranillo from Match Book in the Dunnigan Hills (CA) and a 2006 Riesling from Dragon's Hollow, in the "Eastern Foot of the He Lan Mountains" (China). What can I say--we're a cosmopolitan bunch.

As part of our pre-tasting research, I also stopped in at Red Ribbon/Jollibee by Yerba Buena for a Filipino-style chicken empanada, but found it overly buttery fast food.

I'll let everyone weigh in before picking my favorites. I thought it was very interesting to try these side by side; it really highlighted the differences in styles. All in all a delicious day.

El Salvador Restaurant
2278 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Chile Lindo
2944 16th St, San Francisco, CA

Venga Empanadas
2937 24th street, San Francisco, CA

Red Ribbon Bakery
200 4th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

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  1. A handy key to empanada shapes from Venga!

    1. I'm dying to hear about your tasting!!!

      7 Replies
      1. re: mariacarmen

        Not to worry. We took lots of pictures. Where did the salteñas come from?

        Llajua is officially my new favorite condiment.

        1. re: Windy

          It's a little place in Santa Ana called Mi Rancherita - they mostly do Mexican food. That's pretty typical here in So. Cal. - a Mexican place that also serves a few specialties of another Latin American cuisine. I'm so glad you liked the llajua! it is addictive. I am sure the version I gave you is not completely authentic - we don't have the same chili peppers here - but I think it is delicious! I am having my dad buy us some saltenas this weekend before we fly up north - sadly, they may be our last for awhile.

          1. re: mariacarmen

            The chile was a bright orange with black seeds. Melanie brought it--not sure where she got it.

            In case you missed her report on finding secret salteñas in the bay area:

            1. re: Windy

              That was a Manzano chile. I thought it might be a good one to use as it is an Andean variety. Ours was orange but they often tend more toward yellow in color. Here's a link with a photo and more info about it.

            2. re: mariacarmen

              mariacarmen, there's a little cafe in Tustin called Rollie's that makes a number of Bolivian specialties, with some plates that include chuño, but we only had time to try their salteñas (I preferred Mi Rancherita's version, but only slightly). Have you tried the food at Rollie's? gracîas

              1. re: moto

                No we haven't, and unfortunately, since i'm moving my parents up to the Bay Area this weekend we won't have time to give it a try. gracias a ti!

                1. re: mariacarmen

                  mariacarmen, best wishes to you and your family for the new year and new home in california del norte.

        2. My original plan was to spend most of the weekend in SF, since I had a work related party on Saturday...however, when that got postponed I found myself driving over two hours each way for a Chowdown tasting...and it was completely worth it for the company and for the food!

          I was a little disconcerted to arrive at Chile Lindo to find it closed, but that's ok, we had really wanted to include the empanadas from Tanguito, based on Melanie's prior report:

          Windy was kind enough to accompany me from the Mission to the Wharf, since I tend to be rather clueless finding my way around anywhere north of Market. This would probably be a good strategy for pickup on a busy day, but as it turned out, we found street parking right around the corner on a rainy day off season. There is also a parking lot across the street from Tanguito (tourist prices, I imagine).

          While the owners boxed up our empanadas (we ended up buying them out of the entire empanada stock as I also wanted some to bring to a work potluck today) we tried the burger as a pre-tasting snack (hey, I need sustenance after my long drive :-)). I got a pic of it which I will try to post later. Anyway, the meat was nicely cooked and juicy on the burger (the owner showed us the package and is very proud that the beef is Angus), but my beef with it, so to speak, is that it is too much stuff when ordered with everything. I'd definitely get it again, but would stick to just the excellent chimichurri, pickle (a nice combo btw) and perhaps the grilled onions. All of that plus cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mushrooms was too much for the smallish bun....The burger is $6.

          Anyway, as for the empanadas: the winners might have been the ones that Dudes in Mexico prepared from scratch: they had a lovely very thin dough and a delicious filling of picadillo with egg. Dudes in Mexico admitted that they aren't easy to make; a labor of love.

          Of the commercial versions, my beef empanadas from Tanquito were my favorite: the filling was juicy and flavorful and the dough was thin and savory. I would definitely go out of my way to order these again. The ham and cheese from Tanquito was also quite good, with a good quality ham, as was the humito (though I am admittedly a sucker for anything with a sweetish flavor and corn filling; the corn might have been canned but it was a generous portion of filling. Alas, there was only one humito left when we arrived at the truck at about 1:30 p.m., so get there early for those.) Good chimicurri as well. All empanadas are $3.50 at Tanguito except the one with cheese, which is $3.

          I thought the dough on the Venga empanadas was too sweet, though I liked the filling, and El Porteno's dough was harder, less flaky (someone described it as being more like a pizza dough). In general, all of the beef were better than any of the chicken we tried; in general the flavor was weak in all of the ones with chicken filling. However, for me the difference, and what made both Dudes and Tanguitos empanadas stand out, was the quality of the dough.

          The saltenas had a great filling, though they did leak during heating. Still, I'd bet that they are great when freshly made, and I can understand mariacarmen's bias for them. One of the other participants, who is from Peru, also mentioned that based on his travels through out South America that the saltenas tend to have a more juicy filling than Argentinian empanadas.

          Thanks so much to mariacarmen for sending the saltenas along, and I am sorry she missed the fun!

          Thanks also to Windy for organizing. Now, if I could just find a great spot for empanadas here in the Valley....

          10 Replies
          1. re: susancinsf

            susan, i think you confused el porteno and venga. the venga empanadas were the biggest of the bunch and, to me, had the thickest and most crispy (calzone-like, not flaky) dough.

            i ordered the empanadas from venga using their online order form and arranged to pick them up from la victoria bakery saturday afternoon (no pickup available on sunday). an hour before pickup time i got a call confirming my order, and they were boxed up and ready to go when i arrived. when ordering, there is the choice of cocktail or meal size. on their website they suggest 2-3 meal size empanadas per person, but i would think a more reasonable portion would be 1-2 meal size. they are about 6-7 inches wide and about 3 inches tall. i chose the chimichurri sauce (versus the chipotle) and thought it had a wonderful garlic flavor and bright green herbs.

            out of the venga empanadas (beef, chicken, spinach, and mushroom), the spinach was my favorite. however, out of all the empanadas i tasted, the beef from tanguitos, dudes in mexico, and the saltenas stood out the most. it was interesting to compare the styles side by side and notice the differences in filling combinations and dough textures. the other chimichurri (i think it came with the tanguito order) was darker more vinegary than the venga sauce. i also enjoyed the homemade llajua sauce.

            thanks to windy for hosting and providing dandelion greens to offset the empanadas! also thanks to mariacarmen for the saltenas!

            1. re: lschow

     are correct, my apologies. It was a late night and early morning. I got the two exactly switched in my head somehow; now that I am envisioning the wrappings and boxes I realize that fact.

              Yes, the darker, vinegary chimichurri was from Tanguito.

              1. re: lschow

                Keeping track of which was which was no small order! Especially once we started cutting them into sixths.

                I also liked the beef fillings the best: all except Venga's, which I don't remember.
                - Porteño's filling was sweeter;
                -the salteña (my first) had a sweet wrapper that grew when baked.It was glorious and made me wish I'd spaced them farther apart.
                -Tanguito's savory beef and chimichurri were delicious.
                -And Dudes in Mexico had a great beef recipe; the dough for these got crispy around the edges when baked. They were the only ones that hadn't been previous cooked or frozen, and we benefited.

                Venga's pies are huge. They were the most beautiful and the wrapper reminded me of a calzone. It makes sense that they were slightly drier, since they were a day older. The spinach was probably my favorite of theirs. They were the only ones you could pick up and eat with your hands. I did that with Dudes' too, but Vengas were sturdier and less likely to leak.

                Ham and cheese from Tanguito was like a ham and cheese croissant. Maybe not traditional or low fat but awfully good. Their wrapper was buttery and flaky, like filo dough.

                The humita came from El Porteño. I liked the canned corn less than everyone else. I got them at the Inner Sunset farmer's market, but they'll be opening soon in the Marketplace on Cortland in Bernal Heights. The beef (picadillo filling, with ground beef, raisins, and olives) was my favorite from El Porteño.

                A big thumbs up to the plantain empanada de leche. We wondered what might be in there besides plantains: some kind of grain, almost like rice. Does anyone know? They were shaped like little torpedos. I half-expected them to be beef.

                Photos to follow.

                1. re: Windy

                  There was also one humita from Tanguito and I thought it was the one we had at the tasting (or perhaps it ended up in a take-home care package?). BTW, my colleagues enjoyed the ones I got for the potluck today very much....they held up well on day two.

                  1. re: susancinsf

                    You're right. The corn one yesterday was Tanguito. The one you had today was El Porteño in the unlabeled envelope.

              2. re: susancinsf

                here is a pic of the Tanguito burger and the truck menu.

                1. re: susancinsf

                  and a few years ago - maybe like 7 - i had the phone number of a guy who made saltenas out of his home in the Mission, but I can't find it for the life of me. I will try to track him down and add to this post if i do.

                  1. re: susancinsf

                    Glad to hear about the burger, I've not managed to get back to Tanguito since my first and only visit.

                  2. re: susancinsf

                    I am glad people liked the saltenas, and the llajua, and am sorry i missed this event. the empanadas sound divine! i wonder what pepper you used for the llajua - i usually use a pretty mild one - the yellow - because it seems to have the "right" flavor, tho i prefer more heat myself. Great post from Melanie about the Los Gatos saltenas! My dad will be very happy, for at least ONE thing, in moving him and my mother up here. i loved the D.C. "properties of a saltena" post too.

                    1. re: mariacarmen

                      I'm glad that local salteñas can be some form of consolation. I think your dad will like them. To my eye, the ones from La Esquina are a hair smaller. The dough was firmer although hard to tell since Mi Rancherita's were undercooked. I found the beef filling equally tasty.

                  3. Thank you, Windy and mariacarmen for organizing this illuminating and delicious tasting! We missed you Maria, and you are a rock star for still sending in the salteñas for us to try.

                    This photo shows the three Argentinean producers empanadas: El Porteño, Venga and Tanguito. If you roll your mouse over the photo, notes will pop up indicating which is which.
           And, if I've misidentified something, please let me know.

                    I do love Chile Lindo's empanada de pino, yet I am really glad that Susan bough Tanguito's so we could have a true head-to-head taste off. Of the three commercial producers, they were my favorite as well in the beef category. Then beyond that, I'm not sure that I kept my samples straight to judge anything else.

                    The Mi Rancherito salteña was quite deicious. I found the wrapper slightly sweet and underbaked. i think that they might have defrosted, allowing too much liquid to seep into the dough. And they all leaked and the juice baked on the pan. But I did like the filling a lot, and in combination with the llahua, so tasty.

                    I looked at Venga's website and learned that the owner used to have a pizza place. The dough is very much like a pizza dough and too stiff for my taste. I did like the chimichurri a lot, but the Venga empanadas really needed that boost rather than having the flavor interest in the empanada filling itself.

                    The sweetness with the cinnamon and raisins of El Porteño's beef reminded me of Sicilian or North African flavors. It just a little too sweet, dominating the flavor of the meat. The Tanguito beef filling was wonderfully meaty, and the little bit of piquancy hit the spot. Tanguito's was even better with a bit of the chimichurri.

                    My tasting impressions of the two chimichurri sauces matches Lydia's.

                    The homemade beef empanadas baked on the spot showed how much better these handpies can be when cooked fresh. But also, the dough recipe was completely different from the others, so thin and letting the stuffing elements take front and center.

                    The empanadas de leche suffered quite a bit on reheating. If you thought you liked these, then you're going to be in heaven having one straight out of the fryer when they're so soft and almost gooey. The wrapper was much stiffer and drier when heated again.

                    Here are the thumbnails of the photos, click on each to enlarge and read the captions.

                    And, if you prefer slideshow view,

                    2850 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      thanks, melanie, for bringing the empanadas de leche. even as i was eating it, i kept expecting the plantain to be in the center instead of in the wrapper. i did think the leche was a bit thick/stiff, like almost-firm jello, but i'm sure that's because it wasn't fresh from the fryer. is the wrapper supposed to be crispy/crunchy due to the frying? i see from your pictures that they probably got chewy from the steam in the box. i can't wait to try one fresh!

                      1. re: lschow

                        Not any crisper than say a french fry is. The plantain part would be smoother and softer when fresh. Here's a photo of the exemplary empanadas de platano (aka empanada de leche) from El Malecon in Rohnert Park.

                      2. re: Melanie Wong

                        oooh, those saltenas look severely underdone! i am sure i confused windy by the multiple email instructions i sent her on how to bake them. yes- they have to be completely solid out of the fridge when they go into the oven. sorry about that! i'm glad you liked them despite them not being at their best. those pictures of the empanadas are making me absolutely drool!

                        1. re: mariacarmen

                          Here's a potential source of salteñas, Delany's in San Francisco.