Argentines, Cubans, and Colombians, please accept my apologies. Your empanadas pale in comparison to Venezuela's beef-, bean-, and sweet-plantain-filled empanadas de pabellón.
Yes, your empanadas are delicious. Their flaky crusts, either baked or fried, are tantalizing. The savory fillings -- from Cuban picadillo to the cream, chicken, and walnuts in Argentine chicken potpies -- just don't match the addictive, perfect interplay of ingredients inside the pabellón.
The empanada is an offshoot of a plated dish of a similar name: pabellón criollo. It is by no means a groundbreaking invention. Most Caribbean and South American countries and cultures have their own version of salty, fatty shredded beef, starchy white rice, black beans, and plantains.
Yet when all of those ingredients are folded into a sweet cornmeal crust and fried until golden, something magical happens. Perhaps it's the shell, which when fried properly is crisp yet pleasantly mushy, like a shallow dish of buttery grits. It might be the surprise of biting into a sweet plantain, when your skull is already tingling after two bites of the savory beef.
Empanadas de pabellón can be a tough find in Miami. Venezuelan bakeries, outside of Doral, aren't quite as plentiful as their Cuban counterparts. Some offer them only on weekends. Others, like Sandwi2go on Coral Way, list them on menus but don't stock them. You'll need to call ahead.
Here are few choices worth hunting out:
Midtown's La Latina ($3.95) offers tightly packed, nuclear-hot pockets of delight. The crusts are magnificent -- crisp and chewy with an almost-bread-like consistency. The beef is tender, the beans have just the right amount of salt, and it's hard to order just one.
La Crema de Las Empanadas in Doral takes a different spin. Its mini football-shaped empanadas ($3.95) have the beef and beans, but they replace the plantain with Guayanés cheese. It's salty and just a touch sweet. When warmed, its consistency shifts from that of loose feta to gooey mozzarella.
Be prepared to wait for tourists and little old Venezuelan ladies getting their tequeños de queso y guayaba at Charlotte Bakery, the busy, hot Washington Avenue spot. The empanadas ($3.75) here are massive, and one is enough to fill two people. The meat seems to be a combination of both shredded and ground. They don't use quite as much plantain as the others, but they make up for it with plenty of meat.
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The folks at Moises Bakery know what they're doing, and each empanada ($3.50) is assembled in a way that ensures every ingredient makes it into every bite. They also fatten and change it up by including white rice along with those beans. But beware, these are available only Saturdays and Sundays. So wake up early -- they sell out quickly.