A household staple in Latin American, Filipino and Southern European cultures, the humble empanada is perhaps one of the most versatile creatures. Baked or fried, savory or sweet, the turnover is always a most personal expression.  

Said to have originated in Galicia, Spain, you can find empanadas in more than 30 countries in some shape or form. The name comes from “empanar,” which means “to bread” in Spanish and Portuguese.

In Chile, the empanada de pino is baked and stuffed with diced or ground beef, sautéed with onions and spices, half of a hard boiled egg, olives and raisins. In Argentina, every region has its own version. In Buenos Aires, the Creole empanada is such an intrinsic part of their identity that the Argentine Ministry of Culture declared it a Cultural Heritage of Food and Gastronomy.

Thursday, April 8 is National Empanada Day and we’ve gathered together a list of our favorite flaky finger foods to help celebrate. And because I can, we’re starting with dessert first.

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Strawberry cheese and Nutella empanadas at Cook’s Tortas (Michele Stueven)

Topping the list are the creamy and flaky strawberry cheese empanadas covered in a slightly crunchy turbinado sugar dusting at Cook’s Tortas. The Nutella Cheese pastries are crowned with toasted pecans and there’s also a delicate dulce de leche version as well.

Thanks to being introduced to the empanadas de piña at La Mascota in Boyle Heights by chef Mario Christerna, the version from this neighborhood institution runs a very close second. A smooth blond pastry encases the sweet pineapple filling.

Socalo’s Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger have perfected the guava cheese empanada at their Santa Monica restaurant. Fresh lime juice gently tones down the super sweetness of the oozy guava paste, and a bit of cotija cheese added to the cream cheese creates a subtle and sublime salty balance.

El Carousel Bakery, with locations in the San Fernando Valley, has a sweet selection that also includes a line of traditional favorites like pineapple and dulce de leche. 

For savory flavors, the Empanada factory has been one of L.A.’s top favorites since 2003. Flavors like spicy mushroom and spinach, corn, spicy steak or ham and cheese are baked and branded with filing contents on the pastry to help avoid any confusion. Be sure to order some of their house made chimichurri. Flavor of the month is chicken chipotle.

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Chef Mario Christerna caught in the act at La Mascota (Michele Stueven)

Available for takeout, Empanada’s Place in Mar Vista carries at least a dozen versions of traditional Argentine turnovers. There’s tucumana (chopped beef), arabe (lemon herb ground beef), potato and cheese, cheese and onions, spinach and eggplant. They’re also available in cocktail size, in case you want to sample one of each on the menu.

Finally, starting Tuesday, April 13 all Pie Hole locations in Southern California are rolling out an all-new menu which will include  breakfast emPIEnada baked hand pies. Options include sweet cherry, peaches and cream Cheese, chorizo and egg and the signature ‘Hand Slam’ – ham, egg and cheddar.



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