It seems as though every cuisine has some sort of heirloom bread wrapped around meat, cheese, fruit, or vegetables. The best example of this might be the empanada, those little half moon-shaped pastries prepared in endless variations of fried and baked dough, and stuffed with savory or sweet fillings. They never get old, and it’s easy to see why we are so fond of them. Small enough not to count as a full meal and incredibly delicious, empanadas are the ideal street snack. On the corner of 16th and Capp streets in the Mission, a Chilean lunch counter takes these humble treats to the next level.
Chile Lindo Empanadas is perfect in every way. The storefront is a massive window beneath a red awning with an old-school sign that reads, “Chilean Deli & Coffee Shop.” Inside is a tiny bakery full of convection ovens and racks of sheet trays, with walls that are littered with framed photos of scenes from South America. Every surface of the pocket-sized kitchen is covered in flour, and bakers are constantly moving about. You order through a door on the left-hand side that has been repurposed into a pick-up window. There are six sandwich-sized empanadas to choose from, all at $7.50 a piece. There’s the classic pino (Niman ranch beef), the spicy pino, the pollo (Mary’s free-range chicken), the jamon y queso (ham, cheese, and jalapeño), the chilango (cheese and jalapeño), and a vegan option made with Yves ground round soy protein.
Both the pino and pollo come with hard-boiled egg, black olives, raisins, onion, and a mixture of cumin and paprika. Folded into a crown — rather than turnover — shape, the egg-washed dough acts almost like a koozie, keeping all the steamy fillings intact. The textures of crunchy shell and soft egg masterfully balance with the sweet raisin and savory olive flavors. The spicy meat brings all the ingredients together, the clouds open up, and you ascend to heaven in pure bliss. Yum!
If you’re not in the mood for such an extravagant voyage and just want to keep it simple, I highly recommend ordering the jamon y queso. Layered with thinly sliced ham and oozing with mozzarella and cheddar, this one feels more like a salty dessert than a snack. The jalapeño adds a nice crunch, slicing through the mellow flavors with an acidic kick.
Look, I get it: An empanada is just a pastry and we’ve all had a pastry before. But every once in a while, it’s nice to be reminded that someone, somewhere is still waking up every day with the mission to create something that’s been done a million times and still somehow make it feel new and authentic. ¡Muchos gracias, Chile Lindo!
Chile Lindo Empanadas, 2944 16th St, 415-621-6108 or chilelindo.com/empanadas