House of Empanadas

Restaurant: House of Empanadas
Cuisine: Latin American
Last visited: March 21, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson Street/West End)
Address: 1220 Bute Street
Bus: EB Davie St FS Bute St
Price range: $10 or less

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!

Food: 3.5-4 (Based on what I tried)
Service: 2.5
Ambiance: 2
Overall: 3.5
Additional comments:

  • Specializes in empanadas
  • Baked, not fried
  • Authentic
  • Hidden gem
  • Neighbourhood favourite
  • Made from scratch
  • Baked on site
  • Very casual/quick
  • Great for snacks
  • Grass fed meats
  • Organic options
  • Budget friendly/cheap eats
  • Cash only
  • Eat in/Take out
  • Mon-Sun 8:00am to 9:00pm

**Recommendations: Beef Empanada, Spicy Pork Picadillo, Guava Cream Cheese Empanada, Dulce de Leche and Cream Cheese Empanaditas

Tucked away in a side street in the West End of downtown Vancouver, BC is House of Empanadas. It opened late 2010 and I discovered it randomly through research about half a year ago, but it’s taken me a while to visit. It’s Latin American family owned and operated and that feeling of “I’ve found a hidden gem” really hit me as I approached it.

Being in Vancouver we kind of take what we can get when it comes to Latin, Spanish and Mexican cuisine. Each are very different, but we have very limited selection for all of them so it’s hard to be picky. Quite often the quest for “authentic” ends up just being what’s good and available, but this place was legit.

House of Empanadas specializes in hand made baked empanadas that are made on site with grass fed meats, organic greens and quality ingredients. Empanadas exist in many countries, but the style varies in each one.

The owner replied “Argentina, Venezuela, Columbia and Mexico” when I asked the origin of these ones, but from further research it seems to be Chilean or Argentinian since it’s made from wheat flour instead of corn. I think it’s just their own style and I won’t get into “authenticity”, as the only difference between Chilean and Argentinian empanadas are supposedly the increase of onions in the Chilean version. Anyways I had high hopes for them because so far the only good ones I’ve tried in Metro Vancouver was at Empanada Hut in Richmond, which is now unfortunately closed.

Although the empanadas are authentic here (according to my Latin chef friend who I recommended to come try it after), the fillings in them varied from traditional to creative. The “jumbo empanadas” are savoury and then the snack sized “empanaditas” are mainly sweet with some funky flavours.

I arrived at about 6:30pm and they were already sold out of the traditional beef empanada and the guava and cream cheese empanaditas which are supposed to be “the best” or the house favourites. I was pretty surprised since it was still early, but I was left to try their other options, which I have a strong feeling were not as good. My experience ended up being pretty hit and miss and I had higher expectations for them. I felt the same way about my Doña Cata Mexican Food experience.

House of Empanadas has potential and it’s very promising, but I just thought they could taste better although there is a solid base. Overall it’s a good, quick and casual budget-friendly meal, but I question if it can deliver beyond the few popular favourites because I really wanted to like them more than I did.

On the table:

Jumbo Empanadas – 4/6 (Very good)

  • $3.95
  • Although I wasn’t impressed with all the empanadas I tried, I did appreciate the fact that the pastry was consistent and that they were house made, stuffed well and with good ingredients.
  • The wheat flour pastry is not buttery or rich and it’s kind of neutral in flavour. It’s nice and thin not flaky, but crisp like a pie shell.
  • They sold out of the traditional beef empanada and the guava and cream cheese empanaditas which were the most recommended.
  • In the context of Vancouver, where this could be the only “legit” empanada place, I thought it was good for the price.

Chimichurri Sauce – This was fabulous and I could eat it plain, but 3 out of 4 of my empanadas relied on it for flavour. It’s usually served with grilled meat and it tastes like a very garlicky herb and lime vinaigrette with parsley, cilantro, green onions and oregano. It was well balanced with salt and citrus and I would buy it in a bottle.

**Spicy Pork Picadillo5/6 (Excellent)

  • $3.95
  • This was the only one that didn’t require the chimichurri sauce and it could hold up on its own. It easily had the most flavour so I imagine the beef one to be similar.
  • Again, the wheat flour pastry isn’t rich or buttery, but rather neutral in flavour and it’s nice and thin, not flaky, but crisp like a pie shell.
  • I like spicy and I found this mild-medium spicy, but more on the mild side.
  • It was well stuffed and crumbly ground pork that was moist and well marinated and seasoned with sweet spices like cinnamon and cloves.
  • There was also some smoky cumin, a few chopped black olives and bits of toasted whole almonds which I loved for crunchy texture.
  • I wish the olives were green and more whole though because I could only see them more than I could taste them.
  • It was similar to a French Canadian meat pie or tourtiere in concept with the sweet spices, but just not saucy.
  • I would come back for this and recommend it.

Green Chile Chicken Tomatillo3/6 (Good)

  • $3.95
  • Again, the wheat flour pastry isn’t rich or buttery, but rather neutral in flavour and it’s nice and thin, not flaky, but crisp like a pie shell.
  • The chicken was all white meat and although it was moist it wasn’t juicy (being white meat).
  • The poached and somewhat shredded and mashed texture of the chicken can come off as being dry, and I would not recommend reheating this one.
  • I found the chicken tangy but still quite bland and it really needed the chimichurri sauce.
  • With the sauce it was very good, but otherwise it tasted quite ordinary.
  • The chicken was marinated with tomatillo sauce and it was very mild in flavour and I could taste the acidity from the marinade if I ate it without the pastry.
  • I’ve had empanadas stuffed with hard boiled eggs and raisins before and I like that addition, but it was maybe a style of empanada I had from a different country.

Spinach & Goat Cheese Empanada2/6 (Okay)

  • $3.95
  • Again, the wheat flour pastry isn’t rich or buttery, but rather neutral in flavour and it’s nice and thin, not flaky, but crisp like a pie shell.
  • I found this one really bland although well stuffed.
  • The crumbled goat cheese wasn’t mixed throughout the spinach and there wasn’t much of it either.
  • It wasn’t a very strong goat’s cheese and it wasn’t very salty so I couldn’t really taste anything but spinach.
  • The spinach was fresh and not overcooked, but it tasted unseasoned and just sauteed with onions.
  • This one also really needed the chimichurri sauce.

Organic Sweet Corn w/Roasted Red Pepper2.5/6 (Okay-Good)

  • $3.95
  • Again, the wheat flour pastry isn’t rich or buttery, but rather neutral in flavour and it’s nice and thin, not flaky, but crisp like a pie shell.
  • I love corn and although this was understandably frozen corn since it’s not in season yet, this was also quite ordinary and rather bland.
  • The corn wasn’t that sweet and it didn’t have that pop and crunch and there wasn’t much red pepper either. I could see little bits of it but I couldn’t taste it.
  • It just tasted like sauteed corn and onions and I missed the seasonings and this really needed the chimichurri sauce too.

**Dulce de Leche Cream Cheese Empanaditas4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • $1.50
  • I really wanted to try the guava and cream cheese sweet empanaditas, but since they sold out I took the next recommendation.
  • This is traditional and although I usually stray away from dulce de leche I actually really enjoyed this one.

  • It was small, but very dense and the filling was thick and rich so the couple bites were perfect.
  • Again, the wheat flour pastry isn’t rich or buttery, but rather neutral in flavour and it’s nice and thin, not flaky, but crisp like a pie shell.
  • The dulce de leche was surprisingly not hurt your teeth sweet which I normally find it tends to be. It was sweet, but not a one biter sweet.
  • The cream cheese was in clumps throughout, but I couldn’t really taste any of it.
  • It was like a chewy Werther’s Original caramel and it didn’t stick to my teeth which was great.
  • It was creamy and almost paste like inside and it was my second favourite empanada out of what I tried on this occasion.

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House of Empanadas on Urbanspoon

15 Comments

  • KimHo says:

    Just as you mentioned, empanadas are similar to bread or dumplings: each country/region will have their own variation. In the case of House of Empanadas, yes, they are Chilean; however, the people working at the counter might not necessarily be so. I went one day to the location in Denman and asked. One was Chilean, the other was Mexican. Nothing wrong with that, just being nitpicky! Regardless, you did hit in the nail by saying that, given that there aren’t that much of an option in Vancouver for this treat, so House of Empanadas will have to do.

    Having said that, their offerings are quite good, IMO, on par, if not better than Empanada Hut’s. A couple of things about the empanadas you got:

    1) Spinach: if you think spanakopita, I think that would have worked better for you.
    2) Some empanadas tend to be “saucier”; however, they have to be eaten right away. You can guess why. That’s the reason probably why you don’t see them here.
    3) As or the beef/pork looking like ground meat, well… In some places, it is prepared by dicing meat but given the labour required, an easier alternative is by using ground meat.
    4) Chimichurri is actually Argentinian. But, hey, they are neighbours!

    Having said all that, when are you going to Rinconcito Salvadoreño for pupusas? 😛

  • KimHo says:

    Forgot to mention that I prefer the frybread version; however, when you don’t have much of an option… Well, I still like this one!

  • Mijune says:

    @KimHo – thanks for the comments and tips. I think they intentionally don’t do the frying here so it’s healthier and more appealing for the majority of Vancouverites… i for sure can see it tasting great, but market demands… market supplies.

    i’m surprised you didn’t rip me apart in this post… thanks. lol

  • LotusRapper says:

    [gasp] Rip you apart …… why ?!?!?

    I’ve not had much experience with empanadas. Which brings me to ask a question I’ve longed wondered about, the Chinese curry beef pastry (咖喱角) is that related to any sort of Spanish/Portuguese food fusioning that happened in the Macao/HK region in the past ? Enquiring minds want to know 🙂

  • KimHo says:

    LR: Unless you have forgotten, remember, I am still the in-house bastard who hates everybody and everything. Plus the fact I have more experience than most Vancouver food bloggers with Latin American food.

    As for the curry beef triangle, it is possible it has some relationship or it could have been developed independently. Regardless of which one it is, the main differences would be (a) as the name suggest, the HK version has a curry spiced filling. Empanadas seldom use curry. (b) The HK version has a more flaky pastry. If you would have to draw a comparison, I would rather compare it with Jamaican patties, since their fillings tend to have curry and it can be quite flaky. Of course, the fact that both are heavily British influenced and there is the Indian influence mixed in, that could be an easier relationship to draw. But then, empanadas and patties are somewhat related… 🙂 (Complicated? Well, just draw the comparison made about each region making their own version of a dumpling).

  • LotusRapper says:

    Thx Kim. So Chinese curry beef puff vs. empanadas vs. samosas is somewhat analogous to Chinese egg tarts vs. pastel de nata ?

  • KimHo says:

    LR, from what I know, Chinese egg tarts are a more recent development (mid 20th century) compared to pastel de nata which goes back to the 19th century. It is possible Chinese egg tarts borrowed the idea from Portuguese egg tarts (well, Macau and HK are next to each other!), which, was derived from the pastel de nata.

    Hey Mijune, this sort of brings an interesting topic: how about one of these days you do comparison between “similar” dishes. For example, Japanese “hamburg”steak vs. Salisbury steak vs. hamburger/meatloaf?

  • LotusRapper says:

    Great idea, dude !!

    I’d like to throw in the idea of tonkatsu vs. wiener schnitzel vs. coteletta 😀

  • Bow says:

    My Filipino friends love and make empanadas for most meals. I find them, like Jamaican patties, too heavy and too bland to eat everyday. The pastry is never light… can be flaky and the fillings greasy. I realize that many find it “comfort” food. like sausage rolls; I can take it or leave them(like chicken wings). Have to admit that the House has empanadas that I’ve never seen before.

  • KimHo says:

    Bow, historically, pocket pies or patsies – the UK version of empanadas, were sort of a everyday type meal so I am not surprised people from other places would think in a similar way. Then again, some people look at Chinese funny for wanting to eat rice on a daily basis! 🙂 In contrast, if you say you eat sandwiches everyday, it won’t be that different from eating empanadas on a daily basis. After all, if you think a “sealed” sandwich, that would basically be a patsy, empanada, samosa, etc!

  • Linda says:

    mmm these empanadas look interesting – i love how the dessert one is bursting at the seams! the popular ones seem yummy but too bad they were sold out – you’d think they would make a bit more just to satisfy demand lol

    i wonder if there’s some small convenience store somewhere in vancouver that sells more of these legit empanadas… i really wish vancouver would expand their food scene more and include other cultures… maybe i don’t know the entire scene but i hope they become a little more readily available for those not neccessarily in the know 🙂

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – we just need that population!!

  • Tito says:

    I and my wife was just there yesterday.
    The store is closed. Did they when belly up?

  • Mijune says:

    @Tito – moved locations to Denman street! I thought they just opened another location, but I guess they just moved!

  • Tito says:

    There was no sign, that they moved to Denman Street.
    Does anybody know the right address?

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