Many ethnic cuisines feature some form of empanada - the stuffed pastry, literally “wrapped in bread” - common throughout the Americas and beyond. Think Italian calzone, British pasty, Indian samosa, and Jamaican patty, just to name a few. I first tasted a Latin American empanada in Costa Rica, where they are meat- or cheese-filled, made with cornmeal and fried until the dough is crispy and the insides steaming. Break one open, add a shot of hot sauce, and you’ve got a perfect snack. In South America, Argentinians are empanada connoisseurs, with many regional and even local versions. Argentine empanadas are typically flaky wheat pastries, savory or sweet, that are baked instead of fried. Empanadas filled with ground beef, egg and raisins are one popular combination.
The rich empanada culture of Argentina helps explain the extensive menu at Stella’s Empanadas & Argentine Grill in Kearny, NJ. Stella, from Argentina’s third-largest city, Rosario, makes more than twenty empanada varieties, both savory and sweet, all from scratch. In fact, you can watch her and her daughter make the empanadas behind the counter. They prepare and roll out large discs of dough, brush on an egg wash, add the filling and pop them in the oven to bake. The results are flaky, slightly sweet, half-moon pastries with tasty fillings. Stella’s empanadas are quite large and not overstuffed. Varieties when we visited included Western Omelette, Beef & Potato, Chicken, Sausage & Peppers, Broccoli & Cheddar. We tried a few different kinds, all very good. My favorites were the Calabrese (roasted peppers, tomato, mozzarella cheese with a garlic/parsley sauce) and the Spinach, Mushroom & Onions. You might also try a dessert empanadas – baked apple, peach or pineapple. At $2 a piece, or $17 for a dozen, you can eat very well here on the cheap.
Stella’s also serves burgers, sides (the “Chimi-chimi Fries” – covered with chimichurri – sound good), and some daily specials like Steak Milanesa, Chicken Francaise and stuffed peppers. There are about six tables in the small storefront shop. Stella’s does a brisk take out business. Stella is happy to take special orders, and will even make empanada varieties not on the menu if you call ahead.