Vegetarian Empanadas at Chilenita

March 2, 2008 at 4:52 pm (Restaurant review)

I am not an empanada connoisseur. Empanadas are more popular in South American than Mexico, so they’re not that common in Austin. Plus, traditional empanadas are rarely vegetarian. Before I came to Montreal the only time I can remember getting empanadas was in Pittsburgh, at the Peruvian restaurant La Feria. We tried their empanadas once or twice, but they never seemed worth the money or calories (although we did really like the sweet onion relish with which they were served). In Montreal, however, empanadas are more common. There is a small Chilean empanada place called Chilenita, that’s just a few blocks off my walk to work, and I have picked up an empanada for lunch quite a few times. Surprisingly, Chilenita offers five different vegetarian empanadas. When I go on weekdays they usually just have two of the five available, but I dropped by last weekend and they had all five, so I finally got to try them all.

My favorite is La Napolitana, which has green olives and artichokes, tomatoes, goat cheese and mozzarella. It’s a bit salty but very tasty and satisfying. The spinach and cheese empanada is okay, but a bit boring. The végé-champignon empanada includes mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, and corn. I thought it sounded dull, but I quite enjoyed it, especially the corn which was surprisngly flavorful. The végé-tofu version is similar, but the tofu doesn’t really add anything flavor or texture-wise; it’s pretty much just soft unseasoned tofu smushed up with the veggies. The last one is the Mediterranéenne empanada, which I didn’t care for because it has eggplant, my végé-nemesis. All the empanadas come with an excellent spicy red sauce. It’s not quite salsa, or hot sauce, but something in between. Whatever it is, it complements the empanadas perfectly, especially the edges which are somewhat dry. I always ask for extra sauce.

When Derek was in town he tried the La Napolitana empanada, but didn’t care for it. He referred to it as a “starch bomb,” I believe. Certainly, empanadas are carb-heavy, with all that dough, and the dough isn’t all that tasty by itself, but at least the it doesn’t taste extremely rich (although for all I know the dough might be made with tons of butter). Even so, if I eat one empanada for lunch I feel satisfied and alert afterwards, so they pass my after-lunch-coma test.

The Montreal blog Midnight Poutine has a quite lovely and very accurate set of photos documenting both the empanadas themselves and the very tiny but cute restaurant.

La Chilenita’s menu also includes burritos and other latin cuisine, but so far I’ve just stuck with the empanadas, as I’m always in a rush and the empanadas are grab and go.

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