Why is it that when you hear eye-witness accounts on Bigfoot and Nessie, it's always the chance encounter by the drunkard who just sauntered out of his local pub? It's never the guy who actually goes out looking for them -- like that determined scientist with grant money and expensive equipment?
So when I accidentally stumbled across salteñas while aimlessly meandering through Tustin the other day, I felt like the former: the village idiot who just got lucky. Why? According to Gustavo Arellano, only two local restaurants serve this Bolivian take on the empanada. Fortunately, I had a camera on me, ready to snap a picture as proof of my discovery.
So here it is: the third place in O.C. to serve salteñas.
Of course, it's a panaderia. And although the classy digs of this week-old eatery won't allow the restaurant to call itself as such (its professionally-made sign reads: "Rollie's Bakery & Mexican Cafe"), it is one.
Inside you find the usual assortment of rolls and pastries. There are the predictable staples of conchas, spongy domes striped with compacted sugar; and unexpected things like custard-filled flutes rolled to be as thick as a Cuban cigar.
All of this wouldn't be newsworthy in, say, Santa Ana or Anaheim, where you can throw a stick and hit a Mexican baker, but in Tustin, it's as rare as a sasquatch fart.
In fact, if I am not mistaken, Rollie's is possibly the first real panaderia in the city (if you don't count the bakery inside the Bodega Ranch Market).
And I haven't gotten started on those salteñas ($2.50 each).
The tops of these airy puffs of pastry are braided to be ridged and arched, looking like the backbone of a mythical beast. Their insides are stuffed with ground beef, chicken, peas, chopped hard-boiled eggs and raisins. Crusty, steamy, and savory; it's everything a good empanada should be. Once you finish one, you debate ordering another. And another.
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But there are more savory goodies to try. For instance, they've also got a type of empanada that doesn't fit into the classic definition of one. The empanadas de queso ($1.25 each) are more like thick blinis folded into half-moons, sandwiching melted cheese, and dusted with powdered sugar. If you get one, eat it as soon you can: the ooze of the cheese congeals too quickly otherwise.
If you want something more substantial, opt for the breakfast chorizo burrito (served all day) instead of the enchiladas ($5.00), which aren't anything special.
These burritos may look small for something that's priced at $4.50, but it's deceptively filling. And really, how much salty, fatty, nicely gristly, surreptitiously spicy pork sausage and cholesterol-laden egg do you need? Okay, I admit: a lot. One can never have enough chorizo and egg, nor joints that serve salteñas.
Rollie's Bakery & Mexican Cafe
14071 Newport Avenue
Tustin, CA 92780