Willy Wonka is to chocolate as the folks from Nonna’s Empanadas are to hand pies. The little Beverly Grove shop offers up nearly 40 types of empanadas, some of which are filled with delightfully bizarre flavor combinations.
You might be overwhelmed off the bat when you enter the joint. Just like a donut shop that shows off its wealth of carb-y goodness, the glass cases at Nonna’s are tightly stacked with rows and rows of perfectly uniform, baked pastries. The empanadas come out warm and each of the flaky shells are branded with the “Nonna’s” name and the type of filling inside. I’m sure the stamping helps sort out their bevy of options, but if anything, these guys have their branding down.
There’s a global theme to these fillings—with flavors from the Philippines to Spain and India. It has to do with the inspiration that Nonna’s owners, Eduardo Ekmekgian and Graciela Boltiansky, drew from their travels around the world. They discovered a variety of empanadas with different names in different languages and wanted to bring those flavors here, launching Nonna’s in 2009. Ekmekgian says he also attributes his variety of empanada options to “California’s ethnic diversity.”
Of the lot, here are five standout empanadas:
1. Chicken, mushroom and cheese: This empanada is filled with flavorful bits of chicken and champignon mushrooms, and bound together by the gooeyness of the melted provolone. The addition of cheese makes the filling of these empanadas extra moist, but at the same time doesn’t cause the outer layer to become soggy. This also has a little kick from the tiny bit of poblano chile added.
2. Macaroni and cheese: Since I’ll take any excuse to eat macaroni-and-cheese by hand (hello deep-fried, mac ’n’ cheese balls), I’m especially enticed by these elevated Hot Pockets filled with the creamy, cheddar-smothered elbow pasta. You can’t really go wrong with mac ’n’ cheese, and this is our number one meatless option.
3. Beef: Despite sounding relatively pedestrian—it’s hard to compete when mac ‘n’ cheese is in the mix—this empanada is one of the tastiest on the menu. It consists of seasoned and juicy ground meat, minced red peppers and bits of green olives, all rounded out with a spicy punch. It just goes to show that these OG Argentinian flavors have been around forever because they work well together.
4. Shrimp and cheese: While Nonna’s whips up empanadas stuffed with springy shrimp by itself, or the shrimp-and-cheese combo, you should opt for the latter because as a rule of thumb, always choose cheese. This one is reminiscent of a shrimp pizza because of its accompanying chunks of tomatoes and onions, and mozzarella.
5. Guava: Make room for dessert. Nonna’s guava-filled offering reminds me of one of the guava-and-cream-cheese rolls you can get at Porto’s Bakery, except in empanada form. This one is chock full of a jam-like paste, pieces of the aromatic fruit, and just a tad of cream cheese, making for a refreshing sweet that won’t bog you down like heavy chocolate would.