Haute Pockets

Published on: June 13th, 2013

It’s funny and a little sad to me how processed food and popular culture have bastardized traditional foods into something unrecognizable. On my first visit to Rincon Argentino in Boulder, which specializes in gorgeous Argentinian empanadas, I heard a young man outside the restaurant explaining to a friend, “It’s kind of like a Hot Pocket.”

Heathen! The restaurant should sue that boy for slander, because an empanada from Rincon Argentino is only “kind of like a Hot Pocket” in the very loosest sense—that it is filling surrounded by pastry.  There, the similarities end.

Rincon’s menu offers a dozen different varieties of empanadas, which are taco-sized pastries, wrapped around one of their many flavorful fillings and baked in a gorgeous stone fire oven.  Helpful staff will guide you through your choices, but there’s something here for every taste.

Argentina was colonized by the Spanish and has embraced a variety of European immigrants over the years, so the cuisine is heavily influenced by Spanish, Italian and French Mediterranean flavors. The tradicional empanada has savory steak, onions, and peppers spiked with the earthy flavors of green olives and Spanish spices, while the gaucho’s ground beef and caramelized onions are balanced with the rich sweetness of raisins like a Mediterranean tagine.

Argentina is known for its beef, but Rincon uses Colorado’s Best Beef rather than importing, a nice nod to the locavore. And the chicken empanadas were equally tasty. I loved the peppery heat of the pollo picante and the sausage texture of the chorizo de pollo empanadas—both spicy and flavorful, but totally distinct with differing levels of heat and variety of spice. The vegetarian versions (served open-faced) are equally hearty and satisfying, and you can see the European influences even more strongly here, in a fresh caprese version and the espinaca stuffed with fresh spinach, onions, red peppers and pine nuts.

Two or three of these empanadas makes a solid meal, served with a selection of salsas, including the traditional bright and piquant chimichurri, made from grassy parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and a dash of red pepper; a cool salsa verde made with creamy avocado, a kick of jalapeno, and cilantro; and their hottest, the asado sauce with tomato, cayenne, and other spices.  Interestingly, I found the empanada fillings spicier than the salsas, but the condiments do add an exciting extra layer of flavor.

Rincon also offers a selection of traditional sandwiches, most served on French baguettes. Choose from thinly sliced steak, ham, or sausage, with your choice of flavor profiles (Milanesa napolitana for an Italian flare, or the lomito for a more Argentinian bite). They even serve yerba mate in traditional gourds during their mate power hour.

Bottom line: Fast, fantastic Argentinian empanadas and sandwiches that satisfy your craving for hand-held food in a pocket.

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