Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lito's Empanadas

Craving empanadas and nothing else? Lito's is your answer. Right now, it's the only just-empanadas spot in Chicago.

Their empanada style is popular Colombian*, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your personal preference. The fried, Colombian method of creation leaves you with a less dry - and crisper - filled bread pocket, but the baked, Argentine method* is healthier and fluffier and softer.

*Colombian emps can be baked just as Argentine emps can be fried, but generally, Colombian emps are fried and Argentine emps are baked.

I ordered four empanadas to start (I'm a hungry boy): Beef, BBQ Chicken, Champiñon Chicken, and Vegetarian. I grabbed one of the few stools in the place and waited. I guess Lito's relies more heavily upon its takeout business, but still, it would be nice if the inside seating were made a bit more plentiful. Lito's does possess a very bare - and slightly homey - aesthetic; there are some colorful Diego Rivera-esque paintings on the walls and a number of Colombian artifcats on shelves behind the front counter.

The woman at the front informed me that my emps were ready and I eagerly took the basket from her. They were golden-tan-beige and I had no idea which one was which. In Argentina, the empanadas are often differentiated by their shells (distinct folds or ridges or shapes), but at Lito's, it's impossible to tell. This could prove a problem for a carnivore and a vegetarian ordering takeout...

The empanadas got to me straight out of the oven, so remember to be careful when you get yours. My four were delicious, steaming, savory pockets. The Veggie emp had good veggie stew flavor with subtle heat (due to the chipotle pepper), but was too potato heavy. The BBQ Chicken emp had very tender shredded chicken and sweet bbq sauce. I should've finished with it though, it could've been dessert!

The Beef emp had many ingredients listed, but it mostly consisted of beef and potatoes. Because of this, it was a bit dry and would've been better with more olive, tomato, and raisin. The Champiñon Chicken was by far my favorite, but the emp was only half full. What the farquad? It could've been the oven's fault and the filling was so balanced and tasty, that I can easy overlook that flaw. I will say though that all of the emps, except for the bbq chicken, benefitted from the in-house salsa (25¢), which was described to me as a chimichurri with a lime vinegar base. It was more or less aji, a cilantro-heavy green salsa condiment commonly used with emps in Colombia.

After the four emps, I still had some space. They were somewhat filling, but they won't fill you up, if that makes any sense. Anywho, I decided to order a Choco-Banana emp for dessert and I'm glad that I did.

The banana slices tasted fresh, the Nutella was plentiful and it had the ideal gooeyness. Somehow, it wasn't too sweet, perhaps due to having the same shell that envelops the salty emps, and it wasn't too mushy either. Maybe some powdered sugar on the shell would be a nice touch to set it apart aesthetically from the non-dessert emps? Who knows, I'm just an annoying food blogger.

After my visit, these are the thoughts that I had: the emps could be less airy, the interior could be livened up a bit, and they could subtract some potatoes from their fillings. But, other than that, I really enjoyed Lito's Empanadas. They make a solid product that won't snake your wallet's contents.

Back or Forth? I will be going back.

Lito's Empanadas - Lincoln Park - (773)857-1337 - 2556 N. Clark Ave, Chicago, IL 60614 - Public transportation: the Diversey stop of the Brown and Purple Lines or bus 22.

Beef empanada - $2.29
BBQ Chicken empanada - $2.29
Champiñon Chicken empanada - $2.49
Vegetarian empanada - $2.09
Choco-Banana empanada - $2.29
Aji -

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