Now when is a dumpling, not a dumpling? When it’s an empañada, baby! These little stuffed pastries are a common meal down South (no, I’m not talking S. Carolina) and eaten in many different countries. Take a spicy filling, wrap a nice crispy crust around it and voila, it’s time for lunch. Or dinner. Or dessert! The beauty of empañadas is the variety of fillings you can toss inside. While empañadas may be of S. American origins, it seems like many countries have a similar version ranging from Australian meat-pies to Jamaican meat patties to Chinese pastries. Over on Blount Street, the recently opened Calavera (“skull” in español) specializes in empañadas, along with a selection of high-quality tequilas and cocktails. Perfect for a date or small dinner party, Calavera is now open for lunch, dinner and late-night eats. I hope you’re hungry cause you’re in for an empañada treat!
Located in the old space that used to be the 101 Lounge, Calavera’s ambiance hits you as soon as you step in. Crimson glowing candles on wall, light canopy overhead and a sexy back-lit bar. Paying homage to it’s name, Calavera has Dia de Los Muertos pieces scattered about. The first floor space is small, great for a cocktail and snack. Or head on upstairs where there’s a larger dining room overlooking the E. Davie-Blount intersection and Artspace. More room to stretch out but Calavera is definitely better for smaller groups. They’ve got a great view with large picture windows along with Mexican wrestling on some flat-screens, cool!
The menu is remarkably simple but delicious. About 10 types of empañadas ranging from veggie-friendly to meaty, including an NC barbeque version. You’ve also got a couple of options for dessert empañadas. At $3 a pastry, you get great value at Calavera. For lunch they run a two empañada-drink special for $5.99 (or three empañada and drink for $7.99). You’ll probably need 2 – 4 to keep you satisfied. Calavera also has a small selection of apps (guacamole) and salads if you’re not up for an empañada, booo!
But you’d be remiss if you skipped out on these delicious, semi-circles of gastronomic delight! I’ve tried empañadas at several places in the Triangle and these are probably the best of the bunch. Large, flaky and served piping hot, choose from a variety of spiced beef, chicken, pork and cheese options. Pretty certain these savory empañadas are all baked, which takes a bit of time. My favorites are the New Mexicana (chili-spiced pork) and the Piggly Wiggly (NC barbeque). Empañadas are served with a side of sauces (salsa-quacatillo) for a bit more heat but most are spicy as is. If you’re looking for something sweet, try the Manza Manza apple empañada, a delicious dessert. But I’m really dying to try their banana-nutella empañada, King of Kong. Nothing like hazelnut to end the evening…
Along with the good food and delightful environs, Calavera also delivers up professional and friendly service. They’ve got a young but service-oriented staff here which makes for a solid dining experience. I’m often in this area, hanging out on Fayetteville Street so I’m really thankful for this newest entry in the Raleigh dining scene. Love good ethnic eats at a reasonable price and Calavera totally fits the bill. And I’m guessing they’ll even expand the menu over time because I’m pretty sure they’re going to be around a while. So rock on Calavera and bueno appetito! Your empañadas are to die for…
444-101 Blount Street
Raleigh, NC 27603