Truth be told, it’s always empanada time in Chile, but September—the month of Chilenidad—would not be complete without endless rounds of empanadas. These savory stuffed turnover (my brother calls them Hot Pockets) originally crossed the Atlantic with the Spanish some 500 years ago and are now found throughout Latin America. Each culture has its own versions, and I’m sure people from other countries get just as serious about their versions as Chileans do about theirs.
While Chilean empanadas come in all sorts of baked and fried shapes, sizes, and fillings, in September, the only empanada that counts is the most traditional of all: the empanada de pino del horno: a baked beef-stuffed meat turn-over, considered best when they emerge hot from a rounded adobe oven that dot the countryside in Central Chile.
Read on for more on empanadas and a list of the 21 top places in Santiago to find them!
Pino is a meat filling made with beef, onions, and seasonings that is tucked into a triangle or rectangle of dough, along with a black olive, a wedge of hard-boiled eggs, and some raisins and baked to golden glory. (See “Una Rica Empaná Caldúa” for a complete description and details on what makes a good quality example)
Empanadas show up for Sunday lunch, for barbecues, and most importantly, for the September Independence Day holidays, and of course, not just any old empanada will do. True connoisseurs get very serious about their drippy, juicy, savory pastry and will stand in long lines to get just the right one. And to make sure they are well-informed, Chile’s Círculo de Cronistas Gastronómicos (Chile’s Food & Wine Writer’s Circle takes on the arduous annual duty of tasting dozens of empanadas to find and recommend the best.
Although I am a member of the group and generally love to participate in tastings, I’m afraid I have to sit this one out. Just the thought of slogging my way through all those samples is enough to put me off food for a couple weeks (it’s those onions, to be sure)… but I am happy to applaud those who do make the sacrifice and report their findings.
This was the Cronistas’ 7th Annual Empanada Tasting session, and frankly, they were disappointed with the results. They tasted nearly 70 samples purchased in 11 comunas (sections) of the capital. They divided them into thirds so that each taster had a bit of filling, dough, and crust, and then ranked their aroma, appearance, dough, filling, quality of ingredients, and especially taste. They used Chile’s 1–7 point grading scale (the same scale used in schools, where 7 is the highest possible score). Despite great hopes for the bicentennial bash, they report that only 1 of the 70 topped 6-points, and only 21 made at least 5 points (equivalent of a B in the US).
The Best Empanadas of 2010
So finally, the news you’ve been waiting for, the top 21 empanadas—those with at least 5 out of 7 points—of the greater Metropolitan Santiago area, with their respective scores on the Chilean scale with their US equivalents, addresses and prices in Chilean pesos ($1 US dollar is approximately $500 pesos).
Please note that San Rosendo, Vasco, and Las Méndez are all due special credit for their exceptional price-to-quality ratio!
6.16 (A) La Punta, Los Abedules 3016, Vitacura ($1150)
5.86 (B+) Las Hermanas, Río Tajo 8361, Las Condes ($1000)
5.82 (B+) Ña Matea, bought at Rotisserie, Av.Luis Pasteur 5923-B, Vitacura ($1000)
5.72 (B+) Las Palmas, Av. El Bosque Sur 42, Las Condes ($1,100)
5.72 (B+) Rosalía, Pastor Fernández 15521, Lo Barnechea ($ 1200)
5.62 (B+) Las Bezanilla, Av. Vitacura 3744, Vitacura ($1050)
5.56 (B+) San Rosendo***, Luis Carrera 2247, Vitacura ($690)
5.54 (B+) Dulce Refugio, Av. Las Condes 14141– Loc.16, Las Condes ($1050)
5.48 (B) Vasco***, Pasaje Las Camelias 1419, La Florida ($750)
5.48 (B) Café Colonia, Mac Iver 161, Santiago Centro ($1100)
5.26 (B) Tomás Moro, Av. IV Centenario 1072, Las Condes ($900)
5.26 (B) Bombón Oriental, Merced 345, Santiago Centro ($1200)
5.22 (B) El Ingenio, Av. Vitacura 5346, Vitacura ($990)
5.22 (B) Budian, Las Hualtatas 5194, Vitacura, ($1000)
5.16 (B) Ambassador, Tobalaba 975, Providencia ($985)
5.16 (B) Laura R, Av. Vitacura 3414, Vitacura ($1100)
5.14 (B) Paula A, Los Militares 6946, Las Condes ($900)
5.10 (B) Las Méndez***, Av. Las Condes 9571, Las Condes ($750)
5.08 (B) Café Bokato, Av. Eliodoro Yáñez 2209, Providencia ($1000)
5.04 (B) Quincho Lo Arcaya, Gral. San Martín Oriente 13340, Parcela 12-K ($1300)
5.00 (B) Dolce y Salato, El Matico 3899, Vitacura ($1200)
*** Empanadas with excellent price to quality ratios
The Cronistas also wish to thank Viña Casa Silva, who cheered them along with an ample supply of Doña Dominga Carmenere to whet their whistles during their arduous task. The winner (La Punta) will receive (in addition to a special award from the Cronistas) a night for two in the Viña Casa Silva Hotel in the Colchagua Valley.