The Art Of The Perfect Empanada

Carla Peña

The empanada is more than just a snack for Miamians. Over the years, this relatively simple mini-meal has evolved. It’s become a citywide staple — the preferred food-on-the-go for residents and tourists alike. Locals with roots in Argentina, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, and Colombia all feel a deep cultural connection to these pillowy pockets of dough.

From South Beach to Wynwood and Little Havana to the Design District, empanada aficionados are blessed with plenty of choices. Milly’s Empanada Factory in Kendall preps theirs Venezuelan-style, fried to order. Manolo in Miami Beach does Argentinian empanadas, baked rather than fried. Gauchos Market in West Kendall is also Argentinian in origin, with a different folding pattern for the dough that wraps each of their many-flavored fillings. Confused? Empanada Harry’s Bakery & Café creates empanadas representative of Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, and Colombia. They also have specialty flavors like “The Cubano” and Guava & Goat Cheese.

As a Colombian-American, born and raised in Miami, I favor our take on the delicacy like those found at Pollo Brasa y Sazon. The restaurant, which has been a part of my life as long as I can remember, made its name by offering Colombians the comforts of home. A big part of that means friendliness and charm — warm greetings, excited conversations, and booming laughter. It also means freshly sourced ingredients that make you feel like you’re sitting in a corner store in Valle del Cauca.

Carla Peña

In hopes of understanding the empanada’s place in Miami’s rich culture, I asked Pollo Brasa y Sazon’s owner Rigoberto Restrepo and head chef Maryori Diaz if I could visit their kitchen. It was a chance to witness first-hand how this deeply significant food comes to life. It was also an opportunity to savor empanadas straight out of the fryer.

“You caught me at a good time,” Maryori said with a smile as I entered the restaurant’s kitchen. (We spoke in Spanish, but I’ll translate throughout.) “I’m about to stuff the empanadas with the beef guiso. This filling was made by Rigoberto himself.”

Maryori used a rolling pin to flatten the empanada dough under a sheet of plastic wrap, while adding a little oil.

“Here we make the dough with corn flour and a secret seasoning mix,” Maryori explained. “That’s the authentic way.”

As she worked, Maryori talked me through her process — sharing what it takes to make enough empanadas for Pollo Brasa y Sazon’s eager clientele.