Monday, May 18, 2009

Empanadas Part 2 - Manena's and Rustika

Battle empanada

Apparently, empanadas inflame passions. The commenters to my last post seem to care a lot about the Marini's vs. Manena's comparison, even before I finished making it.

Perhaps that should not be a surprise. Marini's Empanada House and Manena's Pastry Shop are destined to be competitors. They have similar names. They are both on Westheimer, about 2 blocks apart. Marini's is just inside the Beltway, Manena's just outside.

The feel is completely different. Whereas Marini's feels at home in its suburban strip mall along side chain restaurants, Manena's feels like a real bakery. Much of the staff and many customers were Latin.

But the difference that matters is in the empanada.

Manena's empanadas

Unlike Marini's, which serves dozens of international varieties, Manena's only serves six traditional varieties. And Manena's price is a little cheaper. I ordered a beef and a spinach. I hat to take them to go because all 10 tables were full.

The beef filling had the same ingredients and flavors as Marini's gaucho empanada. The big difference was the pastry crust.

Manena's empanadas have a more delicate, baked crust. It is toothsome and it holds the empanada together, without falling apart. The crust's flavor compliments, rather than distracts, from the filling.

Yes, I realized, I really do like empanadas.

In Argentina, empanadas may be baked or fried. Typically, restaurants and bakeries bake them. At festivals, they are fried.

One commentor said that Manena's empanadas were greasier than Marini's. I found the opposite to be true. But more importantly, it was the flavor of the Marini's empanada crust that completely turned me off.

Ultimately, it may be a matter of personal preference. Some folks may prefer Marini's. That burrito-like fried flavor may not bother them.

To me, there was no competition. Manena's serves the best empanadas I have tried in Houston -- so far.

[Update: I just noticed that Katharine Shillcutt wrote a much longer report on Manena's last week in the Houston Press. It is worth reading.]

Rustika Cafe & Bakery

Rustika, on Southwest Freeway near Buffalo, deserves an honorable mention. Their empanadas are also baked. The breading is thicker and grainier. It tastes like whole wheat flour.

The ground beef empanadas have slightly different fillings -- ground beef, corn, carrots and no egg. The flavor is good, if not quite as exotic. The chicken mole empanadas are even better.

My only complaint was the method of re-heating. Rustika's empanadas sit in the bakery counter from breakfast time. They are re-heated by microwave. As a result, the grainy crust tends to get soggy and fall apart. You really need to eat these with a fork, which takes away some of the fun.

I would love to try a Rustika empanada right out of the oven. That might be a worthy competitor to Manena's.

More empanadas?

A lot of commenters have suggested I try other empanadas-- Tuttopane, Americas, Catalan, and Ruggles Green's "hempenadas."

I can't wait to try them all.


Tweety said...

You have never steered me wrong Manena's here I come. I have a quick question for you. Can you recommend good Korean restaurant. I tried H-mart (which is great) and Seoul garden (so, so). I was hoping to find a real Korean restaurant that does not just focus on bbq, but that has the amazing Kim chi, soups and spicy dishes which is what Korean food is all about.

THX keep up the great work!

anonymouseater said...

@Tweety - Sorry. I am trying to find the same thing.

I have heard a lot of Korean food fans like Korea Garden. But like your experience at Seoul Garden, my lunch experience there was so so. And the focus seemed to be on barbecue.

For really cheap Korean non-barbecue food, I like the food stalls in Ko-Mart on Gessner as much as Super H Mart. Ko-Mart is older, more run down, less corporate. The crowd is almost exclusively Korean. The food is not fantastic, except when you consider the price.

crystal said...

i know manena she is the owner of manenas well its very sad becuase her husband died from cancer in 08 he was at two hospitals also they thought they got rid of his cancer but instead it was still there yhe got it atleast 5 times and well ya but i love her tres leches cake my family and i always get it for our birthdays and we love her alfajores also he mashed potatoes and her empanadas oh they are so good and also she lives around the corner from me and her husband and my dad worked together for mor than 15 years they have known each other for along time and i get to work ther for the summer also at the register look up you will see the picture of her and her husband

Anonymous said...

I want to say if you like hard dried tasteless dough...Manena's is the right place for you. They only have a limited number of flavors to select from...did I mention the ham and cheese empanada was horrible? It left you asking where is the cheese?????
I will never eat there again!

Anonymous said...

I heard there is an empanada cart/stand somewhere in the Houston Heights... similar to a taco truck... I am intrigued to find it and try it, has anyone seen this elusive truck/cart/stand?