'Good, fast food': Argentinian, Peruvian, Venezuelan empanadas increasingly common in Utah

Cesar Maldonado, right, and Francisca Moreira sell Argentina's Best Empanadas food at the Downtown Farmers Market in Salt Lake on June 22.

Cesar Maldonado, right, and Francisca Moreira sell Argentina's Best Empanadas food at the Downtown Farmers Market in Salt Lake on June 22. (Tim Vandenack, KSL.com)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Ana Valdemoros started making and selling empanadas to earn a little extra cash back in 2006.

She operated at the Downtown Farmers Market in Salt Lake City, then much smaller than it is today, running her stand mainly in the summer. She started getting bigger and bigger orders, though, coming to the realization there was year-round demand for empanadas. Her small Salt Lake County operation, Argentina's Best Empanadas, became a full-time venture in 2017 and, as of last Monday, she started selling out of her second fixed location.

"It's very, very common in Argentina that people make empanadas," said Valdemoros, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Argentina and a former member of the Salt Lake City Council.

She's finding she has more and more competition, though, and empanadas — turnovers or handheld pies filled with beef, chicken and other fillings — are becoming increasingly common in Utah.

Valdemoros may be a pioneer in bringing South American empanadas to Utah, but travel to most any farmers market along the Wasatch Front and you're likely to encounter any of a growing number of operations that sell them. Delicius offers Venezuelan-style empanadas, Empanadas 801 makes Peruvian-style empanadas, Porteña makes them in the Argentinian style, and other restaurants and food trucks in Utah offer them as well.

Ana Valdemoros, operator of Argentina's Best Empanadas, shows off some of her empanadas at the Downtown Farmers Market in Salt Lake City on June 22.
Ana Valdemoros, operator of Argentina's Best Empanadas, shows off some of her empanadas at the Downtown Farmers Market in Salt Lake City on June 22. (Photo: Tim Vandenack, KSL.com)

"They're good, fast food," said Leo Perez, originally from Colombia, who operates Empanadas 801, about a year old, with his wife Marisol Pitta-Perez, originally from Peru. "We do very well. We pretty much sell out wherever we go."

Pablo Montes, who's operated Porteña since 2015, likens the popularity of empanadas today to the popularity decades back of Mexican food staples that have since become commonplace in the United States.

"In some aspects, (empanadas) are like tacos or quesadillas 30 years ago," known but not necessarily commonplace, said Montes, originally from Argentina. "Many people when eating our empanadas for the first time say, 'I didn't know that empanadas are my favorite dish.'"

Empanadas as made in South America have their roots in food brought to the continent by Spanish conquistadores, according to Montes. But other countries and cultures, he said, have their own versions, "whether called a dumpling, a fatay, a samosa or a pierogi."

'Easy to carry, easy to eat'

Arempas, the Utah chain of Venezuelan restaurants, offers Venezuelan-style empanadas at its four locations while other brick-and-mortar restaurants in Utah featuring South American food also serve empanadas.

A Venezuelan-style empanada from Delicius, a Venezuelan eatery based in Salt Lake City that operates at area farmers markets.
A Venezuelan-style empanada from Delicius, a Venezuelan eatery based in Salt Lake City that operates at area farmers markets. (Photo: Delicius)

But they're arguably most in the public eye at the many farmers markets operating in the state and at food trucks, perhaps due in part to the ease of eating the handheld food items. Miranda's Empanadas, based in Brigham City, is another operation, serving Chilean-style empanadas from a food truck that travels around northern Utah, while La Casa de la Empanada offers Peruvian-style empanadas at various farmers markets and other public events.

"It's a practical food to eat," said Ahimara Suarez, operator of Delicius and originally from Venezuela. "They're easy to carry, easy to eat."

Empanadas vary from country to country. "Each country of South America is really proud of their empanadas and they all think theirs are the best," said Perez.

The shells of Chilean, Argentinian and Peruvian empanadas are typically made of wheat dough, while those from Venezuela are made of a cornmeal dough. They can be baked or fried, while different spices give each country's versions their distinctive flavoring. Perez said he's tweaked the Peruvian-style empanadas that Empanadas 801 serves to accommodate American tastes, removing pitted olives and hard-boiled egg slices from the filling, for instance.

While empanadas may be new for many in the United States, they bring back nostalgic memories for Valdemoros of her younger days in Argentina when she'd help make them. Aside from farmers markets, she sells out of a location at 357 S. 200 East in Salt Lake City and at the new Square Kitchen Eatery, where several other restaurants also operate, at 2435 S. State in South Salt Lake.

"To me it's about what I remember growing up in Argentina," she said. "These flavors remind me of my childhood."

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Tim Vandenack covers immigration, multicultural issues and Northern Utah for KSL.com. He worked several years for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden and has lived and reported in Mexico, Chile and along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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