I can't remember the last time a hole-in-the-wall garnered as much opening buzz as Empanada's Place, a Los Angeles-area institution that just opened a branch in Costa Mesa. Those crazy Yelp kids love it, and more reputable sources raved about it to me as well. All of those folks are smoking the chimichurri a bit much--and more on that chimichurri in a bit.
Fact is, few restaurants have disappointed me more than Empanada's Place. I always look forward to trying a non-Mexican Latino place in Orange County, and I was excited when I visited this past Saturday afternoon. The tiny, gorgeous restaurant hosted Argentine families, gabachos waiting for a to-go order, Mexicans grabbing a bite before work: a perfect hole-in-the-wall mix. I was a bit disappointed that their menu consists solely of empanadas and sandwiches, but there would be no complaints if the restaurant could pull them off.
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Out came an empanada--a Tucumama, a long, fat, fried pastry of chopped beef and spices, one of 18 empanadas available. It was good enough and filling, but one empanada will leave you wanting more--and while buying one at $3 is fine, you're better off eating somewhere else than forking over six bucks and change for an empanada dinner. And I say this as an empanada nut.
But even if the empanadas were more reasonably priced, I cannot in good conscience recommend a place that charges $10 for a sandwich. $10! Granted, the grilled steak inside the glorified sub is worthy of the pampas, but $10! Worse, the only garnish Empanada's Place's cooks added was mayo. Blecch. Nothing good in history has come out of mayo. Go get a bánh mì at Lee's for two bucks and change.
The mayo sandwich wasn't even the worst sin. Remember the aforementioned chimichurri? It's a condiment of garlic, olive oil, parsley, and other herbs, a spread as essential to Argentine kitchens as Tapatío is for wabs. Every Argentine restaurant I've ever visited offers the condiment gratis except this one. Where the hell does Empanada's Place come off with the gall to charge $2.99 for four ounces of the stuff? It's an insult to eaters everywhere and Argentines in particular. Do yourselves a favor: avoid Empanada's Place and trek to Garden Grove, where Regina's Restaurant needs your business. This chain? It has already lassoed up enough dopes.
Empanada's Place, 3011 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 825-0100. Remember: don't go.