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Sarah’s Empanadas

Posted by MEZ 31 Mar 2013 4 Comments

Last time a Carpe Durham blogger reported on Sarah’s Empanadas was in 2008, so I figured I’d use that as an excuse to try the place out! It’s one of those weekday, lunch-only spots near RTP, in the same strip mall as Papa Mojo’s, Thai Lanna, and the South Durham Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. The restaurant was quite cozy, adorned with tropical bird decorations, creamy mint walls, and a giant, colorful mural.

It was also packed with diners and a long line of patrons paying at the register. Never fear, the cashier is speedy and has amazing credit-card-sliding reflexes. The service is speedy all-around; those tables turn fast! Our server was ready for our order within seconds of taking a seat, and she indulged us for our indecisiveness. She also had an excellent explanation of the Inca Kola offered on the menu, calling the taste a mixture of bubble gum and Haribo gold-bears.

One sip, and I was impressed by her spot-on description. Guaraná Antartica is another imported soda option.

Food also comes out fast, though not necessarily together. One of Sarah’s secrets is that the empanadas are made weekly and frozen so they can be heated up in a jiffy for the lunch demand. Their quality does not suffer from that method at all.

As the restaurant’s name implies, empanadas are the primary draw. They are made in the Bolivian manner, big hand pies with of a choice of several fillings including a couple vegetarian options. The pastry was crisp at the edges and similar to a crescent roll toward the middle. The spinach and cheese filling reminded me of a spanakopita with vibrant flavor. The chicken with cheddar and jack was quite satisfying, especially with the oregano. One friend preferred the ground beef and cheese to the spinach, enjoying how the seasonings made it resemble a calzone. Make sure to use a healthy portion of the mildly spicy and sweet tomato salsa on the table. It’s one of the best I’ve had.

The side dishes were hit and miss, but we were more pleased with them than DNR back in 2008. We had a crisp, green salad–

–and flavorless Spanish rice with a river of refried beans down the middle.

The broccoli soup of the day stood out among the side options.

It consisted of broccoli crowns, lima beans, corn, onions, and bell pepper chunks in a pureed broth.

The sides still need livening up, but bypass them and let the empanadas be the stars they are. Skipping sides may have the added benefit of leaving room for a dessert empanada — none of us could manage one this time. Sarah’s Empanadas will give you a full, happy stomach without setting back your wallet or your watch.

An earlier version of this post was first published at WRAL Out and About.

Sarah’s Empanadas
5410 N Carolina Highway 55
Greenwood Commons
Hours: 11–2, M–F


  • ernesto said:

    Sarah’s has been a great and popular lunch spot for many years. If you want you can get frozen unbaked empanadas to take home and bake when you want to eat them. We have done this from the restaurant and from Sarah’s long ago first location on Chapel Hill Blvd. in Durham. Guarana Antarctica is from Brasil and it is a very refreshing soft drink.


  • Julie said:

    I beg to differ on their rice and beans – we love them! Fresh veggies in the yellow rice plus creamy garlicky beans – so good. You must try the best empanada flavor: sweet corn & cheese! Heaven.


  • Josh said:

    You’ve gotta try the corn and cheese empanadas. They are just the right combination of sweet and salty and are to die for.


  • Anon said:

    They don’t offer beef empanadas anymore. Ridiculous!


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