A few months ago, I followed up this tip that Bolivian salteñas could be found at La Esquina.
First I called ahead to confirm that salteñas were available. The charming proprietor, Guillermo, advised that I needed to give him 45 minutes lead time to bake them so that they’d be ready on arrival. Available in beef or chicken versions, they’re $4 each. So, I set up an appointment that day and headed down to Los Gatos. My empanadas were just being pulled out of the oven when I arrived.
They were served to me with a teaspoon in my place setting. This was a good sign presumably the empanadas would be bursting with soup. Here’s what they looked like with an attractive braided seam.
And, with one bite, the chicken on the left, beef on the right.
The chicken salteña had a leak, so while it was quite moist, the inside wasn’t soupy. The beef, on the other hand, burst with soup and I did need that spoon. They were very tasty with stewed chunks of meat and aromatic vegetables and intensely flavored stock.
The owner told me that his wife makes the salteñas herself and any Bolivian food for special orders. He said that her family owned one of the well-known salteña producers back home. Making them is a two-day process, needing time to make the long-simmered stock and then chilling it until it gels and can be used to fill the salteñas. When I described to him the secret to making xiao long bao, he said that this was very similar.
I noticed that a number of his Mexican customers were enjoying various chorizo dishes. His main cook is from Mexico and makes the chorizo in house. The Choripan seemed to be a popular order with gringos and latinos alike and I’ll need to try this next time. I asked him whether the pan frances (French bread) was baked in-house. He laughed and said that they didn’t have time for that. But then he said that if I wanted to taste Bolivian-style pan frances (also known as marraqueta), I should go to the Ferry Building in San Francisco. He was describing Acme bakery to me, and said that the French bread is like pan frances used to be in Bolivia when it was still made in the traditional, artisanal way. When he has a day off, he loves buying bread, some cheese, and then enjoying it with a glass of wine at the Ferry Wine Merchant.
At one point, I noticed him take off on a bicycle parked in front of the door. Apparently La Esquina operated the street cart in front of the DMV and he needed to resupply it. The cart is open from 11 to 2:30pm on weekdays, selling tamales, hot dogs and soft drinks.
The menu at La Esquina is entirely Mexican and weekly specials are promoted via twitter. http://twitter.com/laesquina_LG The salteñas aren’t even listed, but are known in the Bolivian community by word of mouth. When I asked about Bolivian specialties, he asked me if my husband was from Bolivia or why would I care. He did describe a few things involving different types of dried/preserved potatoes that could be available as catering orders.
I liked the salteñas and was sorry I hadn’t brought a cooler to take some frozen ones home with me.
General Chowhounding Topic: What are the properties of a great saltena?
La Equina's offering on craigslist, $3.50 each, and vegetarian available by advance order
551 N Santa Cruz Ave, Los Gatos, CA 95030