In celebration of National Empanada Day (April 8th), your friends at HoLa Hora Latina have compiled a quick list of local restaurants where you can find delicious and authentic empanadas of all kinds, right here in Knoxville! Here at HoLa, we strive to create artistic, cultural, and educational bridges between the greater Knoxville and Latino communities to promote unity and celebrate the diverse cultures of East Tennessee and Latin America. We’ve noticed during our nearly 30 years working in Knoxville that the old saying “the fastest way to someone’s heart is through their stomach” really is true! These warm empanadas packed full of flavor will fill your stomach and surely warm your heart, too, and we hope your Empanada Day celebration encourages you to learn more about Latin American culture and cuisine. First, let’s review the history of the illustrious empanada before we delve into our favorite local spots to find them.
Typical empanadas are made of bread or pastry dough, filled with various meats, cheeses and/or vegetables and fried. However, sweeter variations more suitable for dessert are also common. Their very long history and simple construction means they now make an appearance in almost every modern cuisine in some form or variation. However, the dish plays a larger role in many Hispanic cultures, especially those of South America. Some historians suggest that the empanada’s origins can be traced back to medieval Europe during the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, now present-day Spain and Portugal, by the Arabic Moors of North Africa. The resulting confrontation between Arabic and Iberian cultures likely left the Arabic samosa, a triangular meat filled pastry, to evolve into the semi-circular Spanish empanada. In fact, the Galicians, a historic Spanish community, named the dish after the verb “empanar”, which means to wrap or coat in bread. A Spanish cookbook dating back to the early 16th century includes seafood empanadas among other European, African and Asian dishes. Because of their popularity among the Spanish and Portuguese, empanadas were soon carried over to the Americas as colonies were established and the dish was adapted to the local offerings and flavors of South America. Now you can find empanadas all across the Americas, even right here in Knoxville!
Try out some of these spots below to support our local businesses during your National Empanada Day celebration!
1.) La Lempira: This West-Knoxville staple is well known for its Honduran specialties while also serving up classic Mexican dishes. Their empanadas are available with chicken, ground beef, and cheese fillings. Pair this dish with imported Honduran beer and fresh salsa for an authentic Central American experience. Located at the Plaza at Kingston Pike, La Lempira currently offers both dine-in and carry-out options, with delivery available as well. You can contact them at (865) 409-4771 or visit their Facebook page for more information.
2.) Enjoy Latin Food: This food truck makes its way around Knoxville on a regular basis offering up all kinds of authentic Bolivian, Venezuelan, Colombian, and Mexican cuisine. Catch up with the truck to find beef and cheese empanadas or try a salteña, a baked empanada filled with chicken or beef stew with potatoes and the national dish of Bolivia. Enjoy Latin Food also boasts delicious arepas, pupusas, tequeños, chicharrones, burritos, quesadillas, fried plantains, and other sides. Follow the truck on their Facebook and Instagram to find out where they will be next.
3.) Algo Deli: Stop by the Algo Deli inside Tienda Nony in West Knoxville to find homemade Venezuelan delicacies like ground beef or shredded chicken empanadas with corn or flour breading, cheese, ham and banana tequeños, beef or cheese pastelitos, arepas with carne asada, fruit smoothies and ice cream, and the rice pudding-esque Venezuelan “chicha” drink. You can order in advance by texting Algo Deli at (865) 258-2190. Check out their Facebook page to have a look at the treats they offer. Algo Deli and Tienda Nony are located in the Kingston 4 shopping center at Kingston Pike and Gallaher View.
4.) Vida: One of Knoxville’s newest dining experiences, Vida is found inside the historic Holston building on Gay Street, just behind Krutch Park. The fine-dining restaurant offers a “pan-Latin experience” and two style of empanadas. The vegetable empanadas use house-made pastry dough to envelope a rich mix of black beans, kale, sweet potatoes, oaxaca and cotija chesses, adobo mayonnaise and chile lime aioli. The empanada “de vaka” includes seasoned beef, potatoes, slow cooked sofrito, a romesco tomato sauce, and cotija cheese. Vida’s small plates are perfect for sharing and reflect a wide variety of Latin American cuisines perfect for pairing with a Brazilian caipirinha or imported wine. Don’t forget to check out the brand-new basement bar, The Vault, converted from the old Holston Bank’s safe to a swanky and sophisticated cocktail lounge. Explore the menu and make a reservation at VidaKnoxville.com or give them a call at (865) 312-5102.
5.) La Flor Mexican Bakery: Located between Sutherland Avenue and Kingston Pike in the heart of Bearden, La Flor Mexican Bakery primarily offers made-to-order baked goods, but they also serve both a sweet, vanilla empanada and a savory, chicken option. Stop by the shop in person at 4809 Newcom Avenue to grab some warm and crispy empanadas to-go or give them a call at (865) 588-7633 to inquire about current availability and pricing.
6.) Monchi’s: This convenience store and restaurant offers ground beef and chicken empanadas grab-and-go style and is located just North of Downtown on Woodland Avenue. Monchi’s is also known for their authentic Honduran food and delicious soups and stews perfect for a rainy day. You can also find your favorite prepackaged Latin American sweets and snacks at the shop. Visit their Facebook page or call them at (865) 347-2173 to get in touch with them.
If your Empanada Day celebration has inspired you to learn more about Latin American culture, stop by the Casa HoLa Art Gallery and Artisan Shop to enjoy a group exhibition by local and Latino artists reflecting on “Life in Times of Covid” and shop jewelry, accessories and home décor made by and imported from Latin American artisans. Casa HoLa is open weekdays from 9AM – 5PM and is located at the Emporium for the Arts (100 S. Gay Street, Suite 112, Knoxville, TN 37902). Tag HoLa Hora Latina in social media posts featuring your National Empanada Day celebration on Facebook and Instagram @HoLaHoraLatina and on Twitter at @CasaHoLa.