Our weekly bite explores the city's food trucks, one at a time, highlighting our favorite mobile dishes and snacks.
The Truck: El Sur
The Cuisine: Peruvian and Argentine style empanadas
Specialty Items: Traditional and seasonally inspired empanadas
Worth the Wait in Line? At peak lunch time, a total 5 minutes from the end of the line to food in hand.
The empanada is the perfect street food: small enough that you can eat one as a snack or two to forge a meal, shaped in a way to comfortably hold with one hand while you nosh, and with enough filling variations to keep things interesting. Add to that regional styles, from Spain and Portugal, to Argentina, Chile, and even Brazil, and you have an endless number of choices.
At the adorable El Sur Truck (a 1970 Citroen H-Van purchased in France that was retrofitted with a kitchen), Marianne Despres bakes up a unique blend of Argentine and Peruvian family influences wrapped up in French technique.
The menu has three meat options, two vegetarian choices, and one rotating seasonal empanada. While all were very good, it was the Traditional ($4, hand cut beef, onions, pimentón, hard boiled egg, olives, oregano) with its generously spiced batons of meat instead of ground beef that wowed. Sliced olive and hard boiled egg added some of the expected elements, all wrapped up in a wonderfully tender crust that still manages to maintain structural integrity until the last bite.
We also loved the stew-like filling of the Pollo Saltado ($4, sautéed chicken, onions, tomatoes, hard boiled egg, olives), the veggie Verde ($4, sautéed Swiss chard and spinach, onions, five cheeses), and the Parisien ($4, chopped prosciutto and country ham, scallions, chives, five cheeses), which was like a croque-monsieur in empanada form. All of the empanadas tell you a little bit about owner Marianne Despres.
Growing up with parents from South America, eating a mix of Argentine and Peruvian cuisine, Despres explained that the "Pollo Saltado is a tribute to my Peruvian mother and the Parisien, a tribute to Paris."
A graduate of Cordon Bleu in Paris, Despres spent time at French Laundry, then high-end catering before jumping into the empanada business. "I had just gotten married and knew I wanted to start a family and it seemed catering could give me a bit more flexibility over having a restaurant job," she says. "Although I love to design and prepare elaborate menus, I always missed making simple, rustic food... So when thinking about what defined my life as a food item it was definitely the empanada."
While the empanada may not be fine-dining cuisine, Despres makes empanadas that make for very fine eating.