Growing up in South Florida as the granddaughter of Argentinian immigrants, I always made a beeline for one treat at family gatherings: empanadas. Gleefully, I’d grab one of the delicious turnovers with braided edges, stacked high on a platter. Biting through the crisp dough revealed a moist, savory filling—my favorite was corn and cheese.
The half moon–shaped pastries originated in Spain but took on local flavors and ingredients as they spread throughout Latin America. Typically the size of your palm, they’re perfect for quelling midday hunger pangs. At home, they’re made for celebrations and entertaining (my grandmother always stored some in the freezer in case company arrived), but restaurants and bakeries sell them, too.
When Argentinian native Belen de la Cruz moved to Atlanta in 2015, she missed the baked variety from home. “I couldn’t find an empanada shop I liked. I tried a few, but most of them were fried, a no-go for me,” she says. So, she decided to create them herself and opened an eponymous shop in Johns Creek in early 2020. De la Cruz sells a variety of traditional Argentinian empanadas, as well as creative renditions like butternut squash and spinach with mushrooms and onions.
In Buenos Aires, where she grew up, a classic filling is ground beef, hard-boiled egg, onion, green olives, and a seasoning blend of salt, pepper, oregano, and cumin. While the empanada’s flavor is important, texture is paramount. “If I ask, ‘How is the empanada?’ I want to hear that it’s juicy,” de la Cruz says with a laugh. In Argentina, an empanada that is too dry is considered a failure, she explains.
Here are three styles of empanadas to try around Atlanta.
Argentinian empanadas are made with a thin wheat dough. Fillings vary widely throughout the country, but classic combinations include ground beef, chicken and cheese, and ham. You might also see a caprese version made with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil influenced by Argentina’s Italian immigrants. Another defining feature of Argentinian empanadas is that they’re typically baked, not fried.
Similar to their Argentinian counterparts, empanadas from Cuba are made with wheat dough, but they’re often fried to a golden crunch. The most popular filling is picadillo, made with ground beef, tomatoes, peppers, cumin, salt, and pepper.
1365 Clairmont Road, Decatur
6200 Buford Highway, Norcross, and 68 North Marietta Parkway Northwest, Marietta
Havana Sandwich Shop
2905 Buford Highway Northeast
Distinctively golden, Venezuelan empanadas are made with a thick corn dough and fried. Traditional fillings include pabellón, a national dish of Venezuela with shredded beef, black beans, sweet plantains, and cheese. These are also usually served with guasacaca, a pureed avocado and lime sauce meant for dipping.
9595 Main Street, Woodstock; 3388 Cherokee Street, Kennesaw; and 1570 Holcomb Bridge Road, Roswell
10 North Clarendon Avenue, Avondale Estates
This article appears in our March 2021 issue.