My friend nearly made me change four lanes in a 50-foot space when she saw the Empanada’s Place sign as we were traveling down Harbor Boulevard.
She used to go to the original one in Culver City when she lived there and had been longing for the pastry-style treats that seem to be associated most with Argentina.
The restaurant, which anchors the corner of a strip mall that includes a pho noodle house and a Russian deli, has seven tables and is sparsely decorated, but has a café-type feel.
There are many empanadas to choose from. The usual suspects are: criolla (ground beef), raisin, green onions, eggs and spices, as well as variations of beef and chicken.
There are also more exotic empanadas. Pepperoni, chorizo, eggplant, ricotta and broccoli are all on the menu.
We began our lunch not with an empanada but with a cookie called alfajor. The two thick sugar cookies are filled with dulce de leche delca inside, which reminded me of a nutella spread. It was nice and gooey and had a good caramel flavor. We also got a cookie and another dessert filled with dulce de leche delca that was like a cannoli.
I got a ham and cheese empanada that had cubes of ham and melted mozzarella cheese in it. The only other item in the empanada was onions and that was fine with me. I know other empanadas have more ingredients, but I kind of like my empanada uncluttered.
Not my friend. She got the chicken empanada, and it reminded me of a chicken pot pie that I use to resist eating when my father was left to the cooking duties if my mother was out of town.
Granted, this empanada was a lot better than the frozen chicken pot pies my dad use to pop in the oven. But the pieces of chicken breast, peas and carrots definitely gave me a bit of a flashback.
The potato empanada was surprisingly moist. The mozzarella cheese and cilantro helped flavor it and take away any potential pasty taste.
If you are not an empanada fan, your choices here are limited. Other than empanadas, there are four sandwiches and an Argentine tamal. This is a type of tamale and has either chicken or cheese and is made with fresh corn in a husk.
The other offerings are a grilled steak, breaded steak, grilled chicken breast and choripan (Argentine sausage) sandwiches.
The choripan is a mild but rich-flavored sausage. The French bread it came in was a bit cumbersome and I ended up taking the top of the roll off and eating it open-faced so I could taste the meat.
The choice for a spread is salsacriolla or chimichurri. I would have preferred chimichurri, which is a spread consisting of garlic, olive oil, parsley and other herbs. I wasn’t asked which I wanted, but fortunately the chimichurri came on it.
But the sandwich was a bit dry, and I might ask for cheese on it next time. Also, the sandwich prices are steep. The breaded steak was $10.99 and mine was the cheapest at $7.99 and I’m not really sure it was worth it.
Still, I hope the restaurant flourishes. It has been there a year and with the lack of Latin American restaurants in the area, it would be nice to have this as an option.
Address: 3011 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa
Phone: (714) 825-0100
Website: No website
Specialty dish: Empanada
Alcohol served: None
Entrée price range: $2.99 to $10.99
Family friendly: Yes
Credit cards accepted: Cash only
JOHN REGER reviews local restaurants and may be contacted at Nolimepublishing@aol.com or P.O. Box 2984, Seal Beach, CA 90740.