HalfMoon Empanadas Delivers Quality Downtown

Apparently, when traditional empanadas are stuffed with bacon cheeseburgers and priced lower than happy meals, demand skyrockets.

HalfMoon Empanadas has been successfully serving both classic and Americanized crescent-shaped treats to the South Beach crowd since 2008. Now it's come to downtown Miami.

Married couple and owners Pilar Guzman and Juan Zavala opened the new branch across the street from the Bank of America building last Wednesday. They christened the first HalfMoon on Washington Avenue in August 2008.

HalfMoon serves up hand-rolled and freshly stuffed empanadas daily. All are branded with a stamp that describes their contents. This novel idea is appreciated considering it's often necessary to bite into an empanada that you may or may not like to find out what's inside. Empanada options include the traditional beef, chicken and ham and cheese, and others like their bacon cheeseburger, pepperoni and cheese and broccoli empanadas. The half-moons are constructed at the beach location every morning and then trucked downtown to be cooked upon order.

Single empanadas cost about two bucks but a dozen go for $22. Boxed combos are also available, and "gourmet" empanadas, filled with either steak, tuna or pulled pork are sold for about an extra $1.50 each. HalfMoon also offers a salsa menu, wraps, salads and soups. And by changing their shape and injecting sweet fillings, like dulce de leche, they even serve empanadas for dessert.

Themed identical to the original, the location's vibrant design boasts a red, yellow and orange color scheme. And just like the empanadas, the walls are also stamped, but they're stamped with media attention. Painted quotes of praise from local publications serve as part of the decor. HalfMoon also proudly displays a little 2009 New Times "Best Empanada" love on their street-front window.

But there are some differences between the two locales. For starters, the downtown location is quite smaller, seating only 10 while the beach location seats 32. The owners said they hope to use this branch for mostly delivery and catering that will be offered to all of the downtown and Brickell area. Zavala said that in his native country of Argentina, empanadas are delivered like pizzas are in America. He is hoping to promote the Latin American trend in Miami.

Another notable difference is that there are no fried empanadas, fritas, or French fries served at the downtown locale. This decision was made in response to the fact that 95 percent of empanadas sold on the beach were baked. So if you pass on the pastry, you can keep things fairly healthy at HalfMoon. Several of the baked empanadas are only 198 calories.

Compared to the South Beach crowd, HalfMoon's new customers provide a another notable distinction for the owners.

"We don't get cursed out here," said Zavala. "Here in downtown, people are less price sensitive and more quality conscious."

The couple said they are confident that the new location will prove to be more successful that their first, especially if the delivery and catering services catch on among the area's corporate community. Granted, empanadas are easier to eat and more presentable at board meetings than many other options.

And it seems they're off to a decent start. Having been open just a few days, the couple said business has been non-stop, with activity picking up between noon and 2 p.m. Yet at almost 4 p.m., men in suits and other members of the eclectic downtown community continue to stop by for their empanada fix.

Up next for the restaurateurs? Franchising. The couple said they already have a list of interested individuals.

HalfMoon Empanadas
192 SE First Ave., Miami

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Danielle Alvarez

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