Laguna Hills, California – Some years ago, I was at a farmers’ market—was it the Old Towne Orange one? Irvine? Laguna Hills? Can’t remember—when I came across an empanada maker. A guy and girl chatted me up and gave me their card, and I bought a few. The empanadas were spectacular: golden crusts, awesome fillings, with knots stretching across each like the most elaborate angler’s loop ever created and a blindingly potent chimichurri on the side. I promised to get in touch . . . and I never did.
Cut to earlier this year, when I was walking down Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, ready to pig out at Penguin Cafe, when I saw a new business next door: Sergio’s Empanadas. Lo and behold, inside were the same empanadas I had enjoyed during my halcyon farmers’ market days—except now with more offerings. In addition to the traditional Argentine ones I had previously tasted, such as carne (olives, raisins and sweet ground beef) and prosciutto, there was a mushroom one (tart with shallots) and another that did a great impression of a chicken pot pie, the gravy inside steaming and sticky. The sweet potato empanada was too hippie for my tastes, but my wife ate it up as if it were a special at the Stand. And the dulce de leche dessert variety was the perfect finisher, oozing Patagonia’s version of caramel and freshened up with bananas. Discovering Sergio’s anew was a delight—as was finding out it also sells frozen empanadas, with instructions on how to reheat them at home.
Laguna Beach too far for you to travel? You can still buy owner Sergio Ciba’s empanadas at farmers’ markets—current spots are in Anaheim Hills, Laguna Beach and Laguna Niguel—but a trip to the mothership to get some fresh-from-the-oven empanadas, followed by a walk down to the beach, is as perfect an Orange County spring weekday as hitting San Onofre at sunrise with no surfers whatsoever.