Emporio de Empanada: Empa Mundo Brings Buenos Aires to the Metroplex

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Folding meats, starches and other delights into dough and frying it isn’t a uniquely Argentine idea. You’ll find some variation of that theme on menus from Ghana to the Virgin Islands, but equating Empa Mundo’s empanadas to beef patties or pastelitos is like saying Jorge Luis Borges and Dora the Explorer both tell stories about libraries. Notching another win for Irving in the international cuisine scene, this unassuming mama y papa restaurant delivers its small, delicious wonders with unparalleled quality and at an unbeatable price.

Proprietor Raul Gordon opened Empa Mundo in 2010 after retiring from a career overseeing pastry manufacturing quality control for Nabisco and General Foods. Together with his wife, Miming, whom he met while working in Indonesia, Gordon produces empanadas that encompass the flavors of his homeland while keeping a gourmand’s eye on the possibilities of Texas and Tex-Mex adaptations.

Empa Mundo sits in a strip mall, as so many great and overlooked restaurants do, flanked by a nail salon and a tax prep office. The interior is snug and simply divided: 30 seats arranged around six square tables and a trio of two-tops. Huge maps of both the U.S. and the entire world, nearly black with graffiti indicating guests' place of origin, dominate the room.

The most visually striking aspect of Empa Mundo is the floor, which is checkered with black and white tiles. There’s a TV mounted in the corner above the door to the restrooms, but it wasn’t on,  nor was there any background music. Besides the food, this was my favorite thing about Empa Mundo: You can eat alone with your thoughts.

The ordering process at Empa Mundo is relaxed. You walk to the register, mark your order with a grease pencil on a slender, laminated menu and hand it over, often to a member of the Gordon family. On my visit, I followed Yelpers' recommendations and opted for chorizo, sweet potato and Texas brisket.

Empa Mundo is BYOB (Empanadas and Malbecs? I'm calling that trend now), but diners can purchase canned soft drinks and juices from a small cooler as well.  I settled on the Manzanito Sol, an apple-flavored soda produced by Pepsi and popular in Mexico.

My order came in a plastic basket on wax papers. Each emapanda is cooked to order and delivered in labeled cellophane bags. I started in with the chorizo, cutting it in half and ladling on the chimicurri sauce.

Let us pause here to praise this sauce. Having only eaten it once every six years or so during family dinners at Fogo de Chao, I thought all chimichurris were green. Not so. This sauce runs a deep amber, with specks of green herbs and red pepper forming a delicious sediment at the bottom. Viscous as olive oil and three-quarters as puckering as red wine vinegar, I poured it on everything. It took all my willpower not to pour it straight into my mouth.

The chorizo itself was great. The vinegar tang and red pepper heat of the chimichurri held the sweetness of the fried dough at bay, allowing the sausage and potatoes to reveal themselves as assertive ingredients and not indistinct pastry stuffing. The Texas brisket empanada deserves its top ranking among regulars. Stuffed with soft potatoes and shredded beef brisket, it's the missing link between the stockyards and the pampas. 

Empa Mundo has plenty of sweet pastry options to round out the meal. I didn’t think my glycemic index could handle the Nutella and banana number on special; the sweet potato seemed a safer bet. Nonetheless, it satisfied my sweet tooth, as the sweet potato innards had received a generous dash of cinnamon before being puréed to the texture of pie filling. Skip the chimichurri just this once and revel in the versatility of Empa Mundo’s dough, which turned here to a very reasonable substitute for pie crust.

I applied the chili sauce in increasing portions to the brisket and chorizo empanadas. It was hot enough to keep on the table if Empa Mundo opens a franchise in, say, Minnesota, but Texans should stick to the stronger stuff.

I was almost alone when arrive at 5:30 p.m. By the time I left at 6 (paying less than $10 dollars for three empanadas and a soda), there were a group of early-30s professionals, a date-night couple and two families with six kids under 10 between them. Clearly Irving is in the know about Empa Mundo. It won’t be long before the resto del mundo catches on as well.

Empa Mundo, 3977 N. Belt Line Road, Irving, empamundo.com

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