8 'hounds spent 6 hours on Saturday driving around Greater Toronto looking for the best Colombian empanadas. Colombian empanadas have shells made from corn meal, are filled exclusively with a beef and potato mixture and they are deep fried. Other types of South American empanadas have shells made from a regular wheat flour dough/pastry, can be filled with a variety of ingredients and are baked.
We made 7 stops for Colombian empanadas*, 2 stops for non-Colombian empanadas and several opportunistic stops for other goodies that happened to be within striking range of our planned stops.
Several 'hounds took photos. Here is one set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/70078254...
Stop 1: Bagel Flame - 126 Wellington St West, Aurora
Who goes to Aurora for empanadas?! Especially to a shop that is a Jewish bakery during the week and a Colombian bakery on the weekends? Apparently, crazy chowhounds do. But fortunately, it was worth the drive. The empanadas had a great shell that had a little bit of crisp, but a lot of nice chew. The filling was very good and they served them with a side of a spicy guacamole sauce. We also picked up a couple of their alfajors, which were absolutely, positively the BEST alfajors that any of us had ever had. They were simply melt in your mouth tender, and surprisingly not too sweet, despite the mound of powdered sugar on them. There was just enough dulce de leche to provide a nice filling, but not overwhelm the cookie. Verdict: 2nd best Colombian empanada of day. Best alfajor, ever. Several of us bought extra empanadas to take home. They heat up really well the next day, as the extra chew seemed to keep the shell from getting too hard and dried out when re-heated.
Stop 2: Two places in the food court at Plaza Latina - 9 Milvan Court
2a: La Costenita
I honestly can't recall how these were. Verdict: I'm guessing that they were pretty forgettable. :)
2b: Autentica Panaderia (not Colombian, likely Argentinean style)
These were the traditional South American empanadas and were probably the best that any of us had ever had. The pastry was thin and tender with just a bit of flakiness. The chorizo one was packed full of very tasty, though not very spicy, chorizo. The seafood was chock full of a mild, tasty seafood filling. You can see the whole shrimps packed into the filling. Verdict: The 3rd best empanada of the day, but easily the best baked-style empanada that most of us had ever had. Several of us picked up a few to take home.
Opportunistic side stops 1, 2 and 3: Of course, we couldn't be in that food court and not try a few other things. So we also tried an awesome lomo saltado (which finally solves the craving I've had ever since El Bodegon closed down), pupusa, steak sandwich and some fruity drink. Verdict: This food court is truly a hidden gem in the city and needs to be frequented and touted by more 'hounds! We plan on going back and trying a couple of dishes from each and every vendor.
Stop 3: Juan Meat Market - 40 Beverly Hills Drive (Argentinean style)
Very, very cool Latin American supermarket with a huge deli counter filled with prepared foods (see the photos) and a meat counter bursting with cuts of every kind. The split, roasted suckling pigs were incredibly tempting, too. We picked up 2 different types of empanadas -- one beef, one chicken. The pastry was rather doughy and the fillings were ok, but not great. The beef was a bit dry, but the chicken was some nice shredded chicken that was both moist and flavourful. Verdict: OK, but they were crushed by the quality of the Argentinean empanadas from the food court at Plaza Latino.
Opportunistic side stop 4: Kabul Farms Supermarket (right next door to Juan Meat Market)
We picked up a bolani, which is a thin flat bread filled with chives and leeks (rather reminiscent of Chinese green onion pancakes) and some samosas. The bolani was tasty, but not crispy (which I had hoped for) and the hot sauce was quite good. The samosas were not particularly good -- the pasty was rather thick and soft and the filling had an unusual spice mixture that tasted reminiscent of a Chinese curry beef bun filling. Verdict: wickedly cool market with some prepared foods worth exploring.
Stop 4: Cafe Las Americas
Perfect shell -- crispy with just a bit of chew, tasty filling, excellent vinegary hot sauce. Verdict: the clear winner, hands down. Several of us bought a half dozen or dozen to take home. Not quite as awesome heated up the next day, but still really good.
Opportunistic side stop 5: Rancho Latina (in the plaza next door to Cafe Las Americas)
When we saw that this was also a Colombian restaurant, we had to pick up empanadas, of course. Horribly greasy (like oozing grease) and hard, tasteless shell and filling. Verdict: really awful, the worst of the bunch.
Opportunistic side stop 6: Seara Portuguese Bakery (across from CLA)
They have a patio where we ate the spoils from the stops 3 - 5. We picked up a bunch of Portuguese baked goodies to share -- a few donut-like items, a few natas, a bean tart and a glazed puff pastry item that looked like a donut, but was like a crispy mille-feuille without the custard. I still prefer the sweets at Doce Minho, but really, what's not to like about sweet, fried doughy things? Verdict: good if you're in the area, not worth a separate trip.
Opportunistic side stop 7: Churrasqueira Estrela (next door to Seara)
The smell of charcoal smoke was too much to bear, so a couple of us went in a picked up a couple of chickens and side dishes to take home. The chicken was amazingly smokey and delicious. Verdict: I don't have a lot of other churrasco chickens to compare it against, but it was damn tasty and a pretty good deal for $11.50 a chicken. Decent rice and potatoes, too.
Stop 5: El Rancherito - 1646 St Clair Ave W
OK shell, bland filling, wickedly hot sauce. Verdict: middle of the road, not worth a repeat visit.
Stop 6: Latin Fiesta - 1002 St Clair Ave W
A bad sign that we were given ketchup and mayo instead of hot sauce. The empanadas were pale and not that crisp and probably could have used another minute in the fryer. The bland-ish filling and lack of any hot sauce made this a waste of calories. Verdict: Forgettable.
Stop 7: Mi Tierra - 828 Saint Clair Avenue W
OK shell, blandish filling. I can't recall the hot sauce. Verdict: middle of the road, not worth a repeat visit.
Opportunistic side stop 8: Baked on Lauder
Got a nutella pie from here. It was very pretty, but the taste did not live up to the looks. The pastry managed to be both hard and pasty at the same time and the filling was just not that interesting and was rather gritty (we guessed from the addition of ground hazelnuts). Verdict: pass on it.
Opportunistic side stop 9: The Stockyards
Picked up a pound and a half of pastrami and a bunch of limeades. There was much rejoicing when we discovered they had their awesome pastrami available. The limeades were a refreshing way to wash down the salt bomb. Verdict: fantastic.
And that was it. We took the food from stops 5 onward to Wychwood park and sat at a picnic table and finished our day of feasting. It was rather epic to watch one hound snarf down a half pound of Stockyards' pastrami.
All in all, it was a brilliant day of chowing and exploring the world of Colombian (and other) empanadas. By the way, this tour was announced and planned on the Chowhound Toronto google group for anyone interested in future outings.
*Other places known to have Colombian empanadas that we chose to skip, that were closed or that we've been to:
- Antojitos - 803 Lakeshore Rd E, Mississauga
- Los Arrieros - 752 Wilson Ave (we went, but they are no longer there, though there is a location on Jane St.)
- Motivos - 1042 Saint Clair Avenue W (closed when we got there)
- Columbus Bakery - 2931 Dufferin St. (which we've all tried -- not as good as our top 2)
537 College St, Toronto, ON M6G1A9, CA
276 Jane St, Toronto, ON M6S3Z2, CA
Mi Tierra Restaurant
828 St Clair Ave W, Toronto, ON M6C1C1, CA
Cafe Las Americas
2260 Keele St, Toronto, ON M6M3Y9, CA
1646 St Clair Ave W, Toronto, ON M6N1H8, CA
9 Milvan Dr, Toronto, ON M9M2E1, CA
Latin Fiesta Restaurant
1002 St Clair Ave W, Toronto, ON M6E1A2, CA
1042 St Clair Ave W, Toronto, ON M6E1A5, CA
2931 Dufferin St, Toronto, ON M6B, CA
2189 Dufferin St, Toronto, ON M6E, CA
Baked on Lauder
145 Lauder Ave, Toronto, ON M6H 3E4, CA