I'm not a fast-food junkie; I will only step into big-burger chains under extreme duress. Still, there are times when, finding myself with a suddenly empty tummy, I realize I'm driving down Orchard Street toward desperation; the plastic oases start to look frighteningly appealing. On one such day, I veered into the parking lot behind what was originally a Winchell's Donut Shop, more than ready to grab a quick bite to eat. It was the right move.
From the get-go, I knew I was a long way from corporate cuisine. The cool, clean interior instantly put me at ease. Lush potted plants swayed gently above cream-colored table-and-chair sets, while the hum of the air-conditioning accompanied the strum of something like the Gypsy Kings. Then there was the smell: heavenly and mouth-watering. When I approached the counter, the proprietor kindly explained the menu: Argentinian sandwiches and deep-fried pies. She smoothly whipped out a sample empanada she kept behind the counter as a visual aid for newcomers like me. While I perused the ample selection of treats, she chatted with some of the regular customers: "Como estas? How was Macchu Picchu?" I could tell I was definitely not going to have a pre-packaged eating experience. What a relief.
Still, I needed food fast, so I decided on the maradona submarine sandwich (or choripan, as they are called in Argentina). There is another traditional choripan available (the tango), as well as several original creations, including the caramba, filled with chipotle and refritos, and the samba, a twist on the Cuban torta roasted pork, ham, three cheeses and pineapple).
I was called to the counter for my maradona sooner than I had hoped. The generous patties of Italian sausage, accented by lettuce, tomato and delectable chimichurri sauce (a blend of parsley, garlic, vinegar, oil and "spices" usually found on barbecue and beef empanadas) more than satisfied my hunger. I decided to forgo the accompanying bag of chips so I could go on "discovering a bit of Argentina in Boise." Meaning, I wanted to try an empanada.
The menu includes 28 varieties of the $2 treats; more than half of the empanadas at Tango's are savory, not sweet. Four are vegetarian, including the Cuzco (corn in creamy sauce) and the Chinese (cabbage, celery and bean sprouts); cheese-filled empanadas, such as the mozzarella, are also offered. The authentic-style gaucho (ground beef, eggs, olives, onions and peppers) sounded especially tempting, as did the barbecue empanada. The Mexican-style mole (filled with, of course, chicken), del mar (tuna and veggies), and Italian-style gordel (containing chicken breast in a marinara sauce) round out the menu. The rancho grande offers a spicy kick, with refried beans, chorizo, cheddar and jalapenos ("hot, hot!" reads the menu). Of course, any dish can be made spicy with a side of jalapeno peppers for 25 cents.
Be sure to save some room for dessert because the sweet empanadas are irresistible. Dulce de leche, a milk and caramel pudding, is a dessert staple in Argentina. From the caramello (filled with dulce de leche), to the coconut (dulce and coconut), to la nona (dulce and banana), there is plenty of sweetness to go around. The chocolate (dulce de leche, cream cheese and chocolate chips) and the Brazilian (an adaptation of a traditional Nutella-like dessert) should satisfy chocolate lovers. And there are other, more fruity options: manzana (apple and cinnamon), pumpkin ("let's give thanks all year long"), caribe (apricot, pineapple and coconut); while these are not exactly light and refreshing, they are delectable all the same. I recommend eating the empanadas as soon as possible; mine leaked a bit after it sat in my car while I ran errands and I embarrassed myself at a stoplight by licking the caribe filling off the inside of the waxed-paper bag. When's the last time you licked the inside of a Big Mac box?
—Gretchen Jude follows wherever her stomach leads.