Monday, November 30, 2009

Empanada Express Grill... In Golden?

Golden, CO. I don’t know much about Golden and have certainly never thought of going out to eat there. I went climbing there a few times back in the day when I was younger and less destructible. I remember always getting lost in the twisted maze of suburban back streets, and would often end up in the same place I started without ever having made a turn. That always kind of freaked me out. But that isn’t what kept me away for the last few years, it’s just that, well, it’s Golden. Golden is the place where Coors is made, and I don’t care much for Coors.  Apparently Golden is also "Where the West Lives!", though that argument could be made for at least twenty other Colorado towns.  The School of Mines is there, too, but all I know about that is they painted an “M” on the hill above town; I see it when we drive up into the mountains. I don’t dislike Golden by any means, I just haven’t had any reason to go. Until now.

It’s now. The Google map image is burned into my mind. I am determined not to get lost. I turn off Johnson Rd. and swerve into the traffic circle. Undaunted by this annular anomaly, I veer onto South Golden Rd.  but am thwarted by road work. It is dark. I take the only other option available, but it seems to point into the twisty street labyrinth. Ugh. I look up and check the sign as I pass: East Rd. That’s what I want! I can’t believe it, and though in my excitement I do pass the Dominos that will cue me to our night’s destination, after only a few blocks of wandering, and a simple illegal U-turn, I find my way back.

I park and we round the corner of the strip mall where we do find it. Makeshift banners cover the old neon lettering below, but the red glow of a still burning "China Star" shines right through, making the banners virtually unreadable. I smile at another poorly signed restaurant. I tend to like poorly signed places, and I have a feeling I am going to like it here. Other banners hang over the “for lease” sign outside this newly christened restaurant. Each banner has a different name, giving a brief look into the evolution of the place. "Empanada Express". Or "Empanada Grill". Or "Empanada Express Grill." Or "Empanada Express at Empanada Grill". I smile. I have arrived at the only exclusively Venezuelan restaurant in the entire Front Range and therefore I would safely assume,  the entire state.

Here we are, ""

I say that with confidence not because I have thoroughly researched Venezuelan food in Colorado, but because my new friend told me so. He is a Venezuelan who has spent most of his life here in Colorado. It’s not too often that a place like this surfaces, so even though he was just here the week before, he and his wife were more than happy to meet us and give us a proper Venezuelan food education. 

Empanada Express Grill, as I think it is officially named, serves primarily empanadas and arepas. We all know empanadas, as every country south of our border has a version. Venezuelan empanadas are made from a corn masa and are for the most part deep fried. They are light, flaky and crispy. They are stuffed with good things like shredded beef, black beans, fried plantain and cheese, also know as Pabellon Criollo. That was my favorite of the empanadas that I tried that night, but also good was the Mechada, shredded beef in a savory  tomato sauce. The other close second was filled with Rajas, which are slices of Poblano peppers. 

The Venezuelan arepas are a lot like pupusas from el Salvador: thick, puffy corn masa sliced open and stuffed. Arepas, however, are stuffed after cooking, unlike the pupusas, which are stuffed then fried. I like this because the stuffings stay fresh and it makes a great contrast to the crisp and fluffy masa. The arepas here are also baked instead of fried, which is actually somewhat common in Venezuela. They do, however, brush it with enough oil to keep it crisp and keep it from being too healthy. La Buena is a great option: carnitas with cheese and avocado. So are just about any of the rest I would think. 

While the empanadas and arepas make up most of the menu, there are some side dishes that truly shine on their own. The fried plantains were incredible. There was also some breaded and deep-fried cheese which was, well, like fried cheese sticks, only they were called tequeños. But put some of the Venezuelan spiced mayo on it and they quickly become addictive. The highlight of the starters we had were the Cachapas. Cachapas, besides being a fun word to say, are delicious corn pancakes with tons of sweet, whole kernels topped with melted cheese and butter. (Again, with your health in mind.) Everything was washed down with the way-too-sweet strawberry-flavored soda, Frescolita.  Before placing our order,  I asked my friend what it was, and I knew I wouldn't like it, but the way his eyes lit up with nostalgic excitement made me what to give it a try. It tastes like carbonated bubble-gum. 

Tequeños y Cachapas

Everything about the Empanada Express Grill was great. Our food was fantastic and the co-owner Ramon, who that night was simultaneously acting as server, bus boy, cook and babysitter; was friendly, albeit understandably slow. The lack of haste in our meal was actually refreshing, and although the whole dinner took a little more than two hours, we always had at least one plate to munch on. And what made his patience even more endearing was that we didn't leave until 9 pm, later realizing he closes at 8 pm. There was absolutely no pressure to leave. He even comped us a dessert that I ordered after we said we were done, interrupting him while he painstakingly calculated our bill by hand (his kid was busy on the computer). I'm glad I asked for that flan, because it was the best flan I have ever had in my life. It was covered in toasted coconut and it was absolutely divine. I am only a little upset that, having eaten more than my share of flan over the years, that this was the first time I've had coconut flan.

So I learned a lot about Venezuelan food that night. I also learned that Golden has food good enough that I don't mind driving there just to eat it. I'll never not think of Golden the same again.

And back to the name. To be truely descriptive, they would likely need to take out the "express" part. So kick back and relax. The kid running the counter sure doesn't care if you're in a hurry so don't expect too much, except good food and friendly people in a cozy environment. In Golden. Enjoy. Besides, you didn't drive all the way out here because you were in a hurry.

Empanada Express Grill is located on the corner of 24th and Ford St in Golden, but don't get that confused with the actual address of 2600 East Ave, or that Ford St is really South Golden Rd. And whatever you do, don't get lost in the twisty streets. As there is no readable sign as of yet, look for the Dominos, and go around the corner to the left. 
Empanada Express on Urbanspoon


  1. awesome. it is ridiculous that you can get this in Golden and I cannot in Santiago. What with this Denver on a Spit and climbing being relegated to your youth, how fat are you these days. I'd hate to pass the lumpy mantle, but if the waist line fits . . .

  2. OMG, we are so going here. Gracias!

  3. Unfortunately the Empanada Express in Golden is gone. There is another Venezuelan restaurant in the same location and it has more on it's menu than empanadas and arepas. I've tried it only once and the food was good, but I still miss Empanada Express. At one time they opened a second Empanada Express location, but I don't know if it's still open or not.



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