What is an empanada? It is a pastry that can be baked or fried, stuffed with a sweet or savory filling such as fruit, meat or vegetables and is cooked to a golden brown. The cooking method (baking or frying), choice of stuffing and flours used to create these delicious turnovers vary by each country and region in Latin America and Spain. My first memory of an empanada goes back to my childhood eating a delicious soft baked sweet calabaza (pumpkin) filled pastry sold in my home town panadería (bakery). My fondest memory, however, takes me back to my days in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Argentine empanadas are not just food, but rather a sense of love, community, friendship and tradition enveloped in a hand sized turnover. Foreigners identify beef as Argentina’s signature food, however, it is the empanada that reigns as the Queen amongst the Argentine. I will be presumptuous to say that if you did not have an empanada when visiting Argentina, then you truly did not have an Argentine experience. After my brief period in Buenos Aires, I did not expect to ever savor the same wonderful flavors of an empanada… until I ran into Makus.
Earlier this year, I went to a UNC Basketball Game and of course, in the spirit of all sporting events, I had to partake in the food & drink. As I wandered around the food court searching for some tasty eats, I was surprised to see Makus empanadas at a sporting event center. Since I had not tried these empanadas, yet, I was curious and ordered two spinach pastries. I was in awe at first bite of the light golden brown turnover and its spinach filling. After this experience, I knew I would have to visit the brick & mortar location off of Hope Valley Commons.
Empanadas are best shared in the company of friends. That said, the day I visited Makus, my Argentine bestie visiting from New York joined me. When we arrived to Makus, we ordered an assortment of beef, ham & cheese, sweet corn, spinach and veggie empanadas. We were both instantly transported. My friend was reminded of her home country & memories of her mom making empanadas. Although my experience eating empanadas has been short, I fondly recalled my days in Buenos Aires – the food, the people and the culture. We were both so mesmerized and happy about these delicious pastries, we ordered a second round including cochitos, a must try original Makus dessert. It is no surprise that Makus was voted Best new restaurant in 2016 and Best Latin/Caribbean restaurant in 2017 by Best of Durham.
Aside from Makus signature empanadas, you can find chipa bread on the menu which is similar Brazil’s pao de queijo (cheese bread). Side menu options include a spinach salad, black beans, rice, potato chips, cole slaw and beans & rice. The empadog, a twist on the american classic, is a hot dog wrapped in an empanada crust, which is a hit with both kids & adults. I tried it myself & it is GOOD! If you like dipping sauces, Makus serves your choice of ChimiChuri & Red Hot Sauce. Makus also has desserts which include sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, cochitos and dulce de leche. If you are too stuffed for dessert, take my personal favorite, a cochito or two to-go. A cochito is a buttery phyllo dough layered with Makus house made dulce de leche topped with toasted coconut. Pure deliciousness!
How did this delicious hand size turnover end up in North Carolina? The story of Makus begins with what is almost a lifetime friendship between brothers Hernan & Santiago Moyano & friend Ricky Yofre. Hernan and Ricky have known each other since they were three years old! As Hernan, Santiago & Ricky grew into adulthood, they took different paths to pursue a higher education, professional pursuits & personal journeys. It was a chance encounter in Chicago that brought friends Hernan & Ricky together again. It was during this reconnection that the idea of a business, more importantly a empanada business was born. When this trio first started to plan their empanada venture, Ricky took a three-month Master Empanada Chef course in Argentina. Hernan, a UNC Alumnus, lead the marketing & sales strategy of their new business while Santiago would oversee the legal & financial operations. Together, through trial & error, the trio worked to develop & perfect the Makus empanada and shortly, thereafter, launched an empanada catering business in the Triad. After having a succesful catering business, experiencing a demand for their product and quickly developing a following, they built their first brick & mortar in Hope Valley Commons.
In addition to the Durham brick & mortar, you can also find empanadas at the Durham Bulls Stadium, UNC Football & Basketball games, PNC Arena (NC State Basketball & Hurricanes) and early next year you will also find them at the Morgan Street Food Hall & Market in Raleigh. Although Makus does not provide home delivery, they have contracted third parties including Grub Hub, Uber Eats and Postmates to deliver locally.
Makus has grown throughout the Triangle from the time of its inception to now. The business may have started with catering, but this trio has taken the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area by storm. If you do not have the chance to travel to Argentina, I can assure you that visiting Makus is a little taste of this beautiful country. If you have not visited Makus, yet, Go! It is perfect for casual dining in or take out. Having friends over, a dinner party or family in town? Don’t sweat it, these savory pastries are a great option! Makus is located in the Hope Valley Commons,1125 West NC Hwy 54, Suite #304 in Durham, NC 27707. To visit Makus online, click here.