The empanada salteña, from the northwest province of Salta, is the most beloved of empanadas in Argentina, a country obsessed with these small and savory pastries. Empanadas originated in Salta and are made differently in this province than in other parts of Argentina. They are miniature in size and typically filled with finely chopped steak, potato, egg and chili pepper. Though they can be ordered fried, the traditional version is baked in a mud oven.
I have always loved empanadas and part of what attracted me to Salta was its reputation for empanadas. During my two weeks in Northwest Argentina, I embarked on a search for the best empanadas, constantly hounding locals for recommendations and sampling as many as I could. What I found surprised me: the most popular spot among tourists and locals alike, the Patio de la Empanada in Salta City, disappointed me. However, near the end of my trip, while stopping in the remote mining town of San Antonio de los Cobres for lunch, I unexpectedly stumbled upon an empanada so sublime that I will never forget it.
Here is my list of favorite empanadas spots in Salta Province ranked from best to worst:
1) El Puneño, San Antonio de los Cobres, Salta Province, Argentina
In a sad and dusty mining town in the heart of the Argentine Puna, I found my favorite empanada in all of Salta Province. Rich in flavor, with a soft, delicate dough that will melt in your mouth, they can be ordered fried or baked and with a variety of fillings. This is a perfect place to stop and have lunch on the road between Salta City and Tolar Grande.
2) Doña Salta, Salta City, Argentina
A block from the central plaza of Salta City, this large and affordable restaurant featuring an extensive menu of regional specialties serves excellent empanadas. The empanada de charqui, filled with salted dried meat, is particularly tasty. However, the empanadas, though delicious, are overshadowed by the fabulous carbonada, a thick pumpkin soup with veal, potato and spices, possibly my favorite dish in all of Northern Argentina.
3) El Papabuelo, El Carril, Salta Province, Argentina
This rustic roadside eatery, about 45 minutes south of Salta City, is a convenient place to stop for lunch when traveling to either Cachi or Cafayate. Meals are served at outdoor wooden tables in a patio surrounding the traditional mud oven used for baking empanadas. The empanadas are decent, as are the corn-based humitas and tamales.
4) El Patio de la Empanada, Salta City, Argentina
Ask almost anyone who has lived in or visited Salta where to go for the best empanada and you will likely be told to come here. Every blog I read and every taxi driver I asked insisted that this was the place where I would taste the best empanada of my life. With such high expectations, it is perhaps not surprising that the empanadas I had here disappointed me.
Still, I would recommend that anyone visiting Salta stop here at least once for a quick empanada run. The setting, a collection of colorful empanada stands clustered around a sunny courtyard, will appeal to anyone with a penchant for street food. The prices, too, are hard to beat. And, though I found the empanadas to be bland and generic, keep in mind I only sampled empanadas from two of the stands and there were several more options I could have tried. To avoid a similarly disappointing experience, I recommend ordering a single empanada from each stand until you find the one you like best.