Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Panas Gourmet Empanadas Food Review

Combo x 3 Empanadas

There are empanadas, and then there are empanadasPanas Gourmet Empanadas sells the latter, hands down the best in the DC Metropolitan area; and the first member of the upcoming DC Outlook Dirty Dozen (the 12 best bites in the nation's capital.)

Empanadas seem simple enough, but they're not. Panas (short for empanadas... clever, huh?) stands apart by passing on the fryer and microwave, opting to bake everything, and using 100% natural dough (no preservatives or bleaching agents here.) Toss in salads, sauces and sides... all made fresh daily, and it's no wonder they're our new favorite.

They have two locations (one in Bethesda, and the one I tried at 2029 P Street, NW near Dupont Circle.) It's a simple setup, but my Saturday night visit was highlighted by live music in the front of Panas' modest-sized space. Ordering was a breeze, thanks to one of the nicest, most patient cashiers I've come across in a long time. There are lots of choices; but it's best to stick with one of Panas' combos. I went with a Combo x 3 for $7. That's three empanadas (your choice) and a side of plantain chips. Toss in a fountain drink for an unheard-of low price of $1.25 and you get a full meal for under 10 bucks. Score!

I grabbed a seat at the last available table (they have outdoor space as well, but it was drizzling) and only had to wait a couple of minutes for my order to arrive tableside. If grading on looks alone, these bad boys were a perfect 10... gorgeously browned and ready to devour. Your combo comes with two dripping sauces, but I only got one (the only slight, on an otherwise perfect experience.) Luckily that one was Ají (a spicy mix of yellow peppers, mayo and spices.) Word to the wise: When Panas says spicy, take them at their word.

Selecting your empanadas is a treat in and of itself. You have 14 options (7 meat, 5 veggie and 2 seafood) and four dripping sauces to choose from. I went with Chipotle Steak (shredded sirloin, carrots and onions mixed with chipotle sauce) Chicken Pesto (grilled chicken, fresh pesto, tomatoes and onions) and CubaNovo (pork with cilantro, lime and onions blended with Grand Marnier.) Each one has a distinctive (and spicy) taste, a proper crunch (love that dough!) and non-pasty filling. Don't try to make these at home... You're only going to muck it up.

How good? I pounded the table twice (softly.) I instantly regretted not ordering every one on the menu. Even the plantain chips were awesome. Afterwards, I chatted with the manager who asked how everything was. Needless to say, I bent his ear with praise for a couple of minutes. Great service. Great value. Terrific food. If that doesn't warrant a place in the Dirty Dozen, I don't know what does.