Prague’s most hidden eatery serves only empanadas and alfajores

The Argentinian national dish of baked dough with savory fillings has found a home at La Paisanita in the basement of Prague 3 Town Hall.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 01.05.2022 14:46:00 (updated on 01.05.2022) Reading time: 5 minutes

Prague has plenty of off-the-beaten-path eateries. But a new Argentinian place is practically impossible to find unless you know exactly where to look. Located in the basement of the Prague 3 Town Hall, La Paisanita can be found in the middle of an exhibition on Žižkov history.

The restaurant, open for several months, serves meat, vegetarian, and vegan empanadas and sweet sandwich cookies called alfajores. Proprietors Romina and Diego say their hard-earned success has resulted from a mix of word-of-mouth advertising, positive online reviews, and Romina's seemingly endless pocketful of innovative recipes.

Those searching the streets of Žižkov for the duo's filled-pastry magic won't be guided by a brightly-lit facade just two small signs directing visitors toward the stairs. Romina says she's been hoping to put a sandwich board sign out front but, as Town Hall is a government building, hasn’t gotten past the red tape yet.

An explainer video on their Instagram profile shows customers how to find La Paisanita once inside the Town Hall. “We like to say, ‘finding good things is difficult.’ We use it as kind of a joke,” Diego adds.

Aside from its secretive location, another obstacle La Paisanita originally faced was the Czech public's general unfamiliarity with empanadas, dough pockets filled with pre-cooked meat-and-veggie stuffing, though these days meatless varieties are gaining in popularity as people embrace a flexitarian diet. Empanadas are healthy, too, baked, not deep-fried in fat, a message that's central to the couple's motto: #FastFoodCanBeHealthy.

First-time customers may be even less familiar with alfajores, two large soft cookie halves with a dulce de leche (caramelized milk) filling. As with the empanadas, once people try them they come back for more.

Romina and Diego first brought 60 empanadas to a food festival in Brno a few years ago after a Spanish friend invited them to come along. They sold out very quickly. For the next food festival, they prepared 200 and sold them just as quickly. They soon began going to festivals beyond Brno. At a festival in Prague, they sold over 1,000 empanadas.

The pair eventually moved from Brno to Prague, and shortly after that, the pandemic hit putting an end to outdoor festivals, but creating a large demand for delivery and take away. Opening a small bistro helped them adapt to their base as well.

While most people associate empanadas with Mexican or Spanish food, Argentinian cuisine is quite distinctive. “Introducing a product that doesn’t exist at all in the Czech Republic is a challenge," Romina said. "It's the first time for many people. Czechs don’t know it. People from around the world sometimes know it from their travels. ”

Ibero-American empanadas derive from European empanadas and those empanadas from the Middle East (fatay and sfihas) which, after spreading through southern Europe (mainly Andalusia), arrived in The Americas with the Spanish conquistadors. In Argentina, high-quality beef and other filling were added and empanadas became the national dish though fillings tend to vary by province, city, or even family.

One thing that separates empanadas from wraps, spring rolls, gyros, or falafels is that an empanada is filled with natural juices of the ingredients. It's important to eat them by hand. “If you eat it with a fork and knife, you lose the juice, lose the flavor,” Diego said.

The recipes, developed by Romina, take about six months to perfect and are further refined over time. Currently, they offer 14 flavors but hope to expand to 20, with some seasonal offerings. The process includes not only getting the right balance of flavor and texture but also sourcing the right ingredients. “The secret to successful empanadas is the ingredients,” Romina says.

"After fours years we found family farms that provide incredible quality ingredients, and they love what they do, most of them are sustainable farms. That is reflected in the flavor of the empanadas, and in the love they put into their product," she adds.

The classic empanada is beef. Romina sources hers from a farm near Brno that raises an Angus cow similar to those found in Argentina. She worked together with the farmer to get the correct cut of beef.

During the month of May, mention this article when you visit La Paisanita and get a free portion of chipa, a traditional cheese bread, with your order.

Spices that can't be found locally are brought from Argentina. Empanadas aren't typically spicy, but La Paisanita will create a spicy version upon request. They also have traditional and spicy versions of their original "Chimichurri" sauce from Argentina.

The pork empanada, featuring the traditional Czech ingredients of plums and black beer, pays tribute to La Paisanita's pork-loving adopted homeland. “There isn’t a similar empanada in Argentina,” Diego says.

Meat empanadas make up 60 percent of the sales, which leaves 10 percent for vegan and 30 percent for vegetarian options, a high but important ratio: Diego attributes La Paisanita's success to being the only eatery in the area with vegan food that has a five-star rating on Google maps.

Romina says her decision to create a menu that takes into consideration all palates stems from her Argentinian friendliness. In order to master vegan recipes, her greatest cooking challenge yet, she studied a master's degree program in vegan cooking for a year. During that year Romina worked closely with vegan focus groups to develop plant-based recipes. Returning vegan clientele who recommend La Paisanita to others is a true source of pride.

Those who find the small basement venue will be rewarded with the full force of Romina's talent. With warmer weather on the horizon, Town Hall has a garden in the courtyard garden with seating and a green square, Havlíčkovo náměstí, with benches in front of the building perfect for enjoying a flavorful and filling snack that's more of a meal.

Delivery orders for empanadas and alfajores can be placed via Wolt, Bolt, and Dáme jídlo. Frozen empanadas can be ordered for delivery Thursdays via WhatsApp. Empanadas can be heated in 10 minutes for a complete, varied, and nutritious meal.

Plans for the future include establishing a bigger kitchen and opening another small bistro on the left bank of the Vltava to improve delivery in that part of Prague. But for Romina and Diego selling empanadas is more than a business.

"We are food lovers. We love what we do and want to share it with everyone," she says. “We have invested a lot of time into making our empanadas tasty and healthy,” Romina adds, pointing out that the duo closes their empanadas by hand. She and Diego believe empanadas are a wholesome family meal for our hectic times. "That’s why we say #FastFoodCanBeHealthy."

This article was written in association with La Paisanita. To read more about our partner content policies see here.

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