The Hunt for Argentina’s Greatest Empanada

In fall 2010, my closest friend was studying abroad in San Diego. Being from California, I became a sort of tour guide for her around the state, sharing with her my knowledge of what the state had to offer. However, this meant she was blessed/cursed to only see, eat, and experience that which I had chosen for her.

When it comes to eating, I am a very picky eater. If there is one food that agrees with me, it is a burger. A good, hearty, delicious burger. So I found myself taking her to a plethora of burger joints all around the state. When I pointed this out to her, she told me that she loved it, and considered it a genuine American experience.

After that realization, we began purposefully taking trips to restaurants that we knew or heard had good burgers. We scoured the California coast, looking for what she deemed “the best burger in California”. She spent three months in California “collecting data,” and eventually decided upon her favorite: Sylvester’s, located in central California.


This began as the basic question of “Where do you wanna eat?” However, it soon transformed into a full-blown expedition, allowing my friend to truly interact with California as she wouldn’t have otherwise done. It stopped us from visiting the same places and falling into a routine, or visiting chain restaurants. We both began to truly pay attention to what we were eating, fully participating in our dining experience.

So, when I took my own study abroad trip to Buenos Aires in fall 2011, I decided to conduct my own little challenge. Only instead of burgers, I was determined to find the best empanada Argentina had to offer. Empanadas are lovely little pastries, stuffed with anything from beef to cheese and corn. I usually describe them (to the amusement of my friends) as “meat pockets,” but I suppose a more relatable description would be that they are like small calzones. Regardless of how you describe them, they are probably one of the tastiest treats I had during my time abroad.

I spent five months in Argentina, and a majority of my diet was made up of empanadas from all different parts of the country. I was looking for the perfect one, with a perfect ratio of meat to onions and not too much egg or olive inside. There were baked and fried empanadas, all with their own unique tastes and qualities. While all of them were delicious, I was lucky enough to find what I would deem the best empanada in all of Argentina during my trip to the northwestern city of Salta.

When my friends and I arrived in the city, we began exploring without much direction, mostly going where the wind took us with no real plans. Yet, I made sure to visit one location I had read about: El Patio de la Empanada.

ARGENTINA - BA - patio de las empanadas

Entering the restaurant – if you can call it a restaurant – I already knew I was going to enjoy it. Rather than one vendor making empanadas, the place was split into half a dozen little stores, each yelling at you to try their food. In the middle of the “patio” there was a hodgepodge of chairs that were all different colors. Depending on where you sat, you were served by different vendors. So, we took a chance and randomly picked seats, my friend Annie and I sitting at one table, while the boys of our group took a chance on some other seats. Once the food came out, it didn’t matter where you were sitting, it just mattered that you were enjoying your food. Even though we were served by different vendors, my friends and I all agreed that these were the best empanadas we had ever tasted. Maybe even the best meal we had ever had, because let me tell you, nothing beats an empanada de carne and an orange Fanta.

ARGENTINA - BA - empanadas

We were so happy with the food that we ended up visiting the Patio two or three more times during our week-long vacation. But that wasn’t our only empanada-based adventure in Salta. One of my friends had heard a rumor that you could buy llama empanadas in Salta, and would not give up until he tried one.

After getting laughed at a few times and a handful of confused looks, we were lead to a small town called Purmamarca, about 100 miles north of Salta. After wandering around and almost giving up, we found one restaurant that made empanadas filled with llama meat. We were a little incredulous but incredibly excited, so we all tried one. I was initially nervous to try llama meat, but they weren’t as bad as I expected – just very dry. Yet, they still left us with a great sense of satisfaction and achievement.

ARGENTINA - BA - empanada 1

So this is the task I leave you with. Pick something you love and find the very best of it wherever you may be. It doesn’t have to be food, you could try to find the best beach in a country, or seek out a city’s most talented street performer. And it doesn’t have to be while studying abroad! Ever since I have returned from Buenos Aires, I have been on a quest for the best Argentine food in the United States. Just try try try your very best to be conscious and appreciative of everything you’re experiencing. Trust me, you (and your taste buds) will not regret it.

The last three photos used in this blog post were taken by Kian Lavi. You can check out his breathtaking photography (including pictures of Argentina!) here:


Sarah Davidson studied abroad with API in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She currently serves as an API Peer Mentor at the University of California, San Diego.

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