I wanted my family to try something different, but it was a hot night and we wanted something casual.
819 C Street, Downtown San Diego
Knowing the family liked tacos, I thought empanadas might be a nice alternative, since they are somewhat similar — although you don’t have to tilt your head sideways to eat an empanada.
We headed out of hot and sweaty East County downtown to Empanada Kitchen, a relatively new restaurant located on C Street between 8th and 9th streets.
On the way there, my son asked, “What’s an empanada?”
Well, I explained, they are a savory pastry common in South America where dough surrounds a filling like meat, cheese or vegetables. Sort of a calzone.
He looked confused.
“Mom?” he asked.
“It’s like a fancy Hot Pocket,” she said.
“Oh, I KNOW WHAT THEY ARE!” he exclaimed.
Empanada Kitchen is a brightly covered hole-in-the-wall right next to the trolley tracks. It’s the type of place that gets most of its business at lunchtime, but there was some decent foot traffic while I was there.
And some decent empanadas too. Each one is $3.50, and comes with a choice of two types of chimichurri sauce: Regular and spicy. A plate of three sells for $9.50, or two plus a salad for $9.95.
I’m a three-plater, but my wife felt the empanadas were so filling, she preferred the salad option.
I don’t claim to be an empanada expert, but between the four of us, we got a good taste of what was offered.
My favorite was the Beef Empanada, which the owner, Matias, described as “the benchmark for all empanadas.”
The beef empanada was stuffed with savory ground beef flavored with onions and other spices. There was a slight pucker to the filling that I enjoyed, especially when dipped into the spicy chimichurri.
The Sweet Corn and Basil was the best vegetarian option. The combination of corn, basil and mozzarella cheese screams savory, this could actually be a good dessert, thanks to the sweetness of the corn. Another vegetarian empanada, the goat cheese and mushroom was OK, but I would have preferred a slightly tangier version of the cheese.
Although many of the empanadas are based on varieties served in Latin America, Empanada Kitchen is branching out with experimental varieties like the broccoli and bacon (not enough bacon for me) and a breakfast version including bacon and egg (not available during my visit).
We finished up our meal with a dessert empanada: An apple version that was served open-faced. It was a nice topper, but when I go back, I think I will return to the sweet corn and basil for my dessert.
I enjoyed Empanada Kitchen, but its hours are geared towards the downtown lunch crowd. The kitchen plans to extend its weekday hours to 8 pm in a few weeks, but I hope they find a way to stay open later: These empanadas would really hit the spot during the 2 am lush rush.