It’s a tiny little spot, a hole-in-the-wall in Irving. At Empa Mundo, a destination for Argentinian-style empanadas, Raul Gordon serves a generous piece of his homeland. The shop, opened in 2010 and publicized only by word of mouth, is turning out the best empanadas in the area from its bright and inviting interior in a strip.
“My father used to bring home from the pizzeria a pizza and a dozen empanadas. Pizzerias make empanadas because they’re in the dough business,” says Gordon, who grew up in Buenos Aires. Later, Gordon saw the emergence of empanaderias, individual shops that sold exclusively empanadas, both sweet and savory.
Miming Gordon, Raul’s wife, purportedly remembers everyone who comes through the door. “You’re not with your sister,” she called out as someone I know walked in. It was only this person’s second visit.
The crust on the empanadas is fine and flaky, crimped and fried a deep bronze. It’s puffy where the layers have separated slightly. Inside is one of 18 possible fillings that range from banana Nutella with marshmallows to Texas brisket, spicy chilipanzinga to tuna or chorizo.
You’ll find juicy cheesesteak with onions and peppers; spinach and ricotta, the inside like spanakopita, bound with Parmesan. The criolla is one of the most traditional options, like a picadillo, with ground beef and onions, olives, and the sweetness of raisins, bound with egg. Dip it in the tangy variant on a chimichurri sauce with a dredge of dried herbs. Together, the flavors are delicious.
We love the oozy delight of the ham and blue cheese, a marriage like a cordon bleu of sorts, the piquant blue cheese tempered with mozzarella. And there is the sweet parcel of guava and cream cheese, with a Piet Mondrian cross-section, rosy pink fruit paste on one side, white creaminess on the other. The two sides meld together enticingly.
All the plump, well-filled parcels have flavor. And a note to the wise: you can pre-order so they’re piping hot when you get there. It’s a formula known by the people who stop by on their way to DFW airport: a hidden gem; a hot little hand pie.
“Our empanada is a little different,” Gordon says. It’s bigger than the average Argentine empanada, for one thing. (And yet still will only set you back $2.99.) “The crust is thin, because of my experience of making dough for Nabisco.” Gordon worked extensively in quality control in large-scale bakery empires, including Sunshine Biscuit company and Nabisco, which has over 150 bakeries internationally. He has traveled to China 30-40 times and covered South America, because of his bilingual advantage. He brings all this to bear at Empa Mundo.
“We put the filling wall to wall,” he says. “Baked empanadas look big when you take them in your hand, but there are gaps and they’re only half full.” It’s a function of the dough having to contain more fat to be tender. With his, “the dough is so thin. When you take it in your hand, it’s not even greasy.”
Gordon started with a handful of options before slowly expanding. “I’m making ones more popular to me. They are the best I know from where I come from. And people may say, I don’t like this or that, but out of 18, you have many choices. I hope you will find the choice that will satisfy you.”
From a cramped set-up where dough equipment jockeyed with serving space, the shop evolved in 2014 when the Gordons were able to acquire a factory space where they now have four to five full-time employees making empanadas, which are frozen and brought to the store to be fried to order (or purchased to go by the half dozen or dozen). Since then, sales have more than doubled, Gordon says. They’ve only raised the price once in 8 years.
Meanwhile, they’re looking to expand. They could expand to delivery with UberEats; look into a food truck; or put in a shop near a university. They have takers. This may require more machines for the factory. But for Gordon, the bottom line is the empanadas. Especially on the quality side, he says: that can’t change.