Is there anything this town won’t eat in truck form? As far as Washington has advanced from our abysmal version of dirty-water dogs over the past year—cupcakes, curries, tacos, handmade popsicles, $15 lobster rolls!—the food truck marketplace isn’t quite overcrowded, but it might be reaching the limits of its adorability.
DC Empanadas, with its sugary, powder-blue vehicle, is much more cute than it is satisfying. To a dining scene in which all one needs is four wheels and a Twitter account in order to pique food bloggers and other digital gourmands, the husband-and-wife team of Anna and Shawn Leis is adding the deep-fried savory pie to D.C.’s mobile food options.
Frequently the greasy nightcap to boozy evenings around Adams Morgan and U Street NW, the portability of empanadas make them a logical entry into the daytime food truck scene. But at $3.50 a pie and half the size of the mass-produced hangover cures available at Julia’s Empanadas, I had hoped that DC Empanadas would debut as a viable lunch option. The truck’s success, however, is only skin-deep.
A sweet, buttery crust is satisfactorily crunchy without leaving a flaky mess on one’s overcoat, but what’s inside leaves much to be desired. In a traditional blend of ground beef, olives, hard-boiled egg, and onions, the meat had been cooked to a point where its juices had congealed into a goopy sauce. What should have been a rich, fatty bite—the other ingredients were just tiny specks among the beef—was oily and bland.
A “Veggie Nirvana” fared better. With my expectations diminished by the first empanada I sampled, the notes of cilantro and a blast of curry were a spicy treat. But let’s not mince the name—the “Veggie Nirvana” is just a samosa with a thicker crust, stuffed with properly cooked potato and dotted with a few peas.
DC Empanada’s online menu lists 20 varieties, and I wish I’d had the opportunity to sample one stuffed with Brie, figs, and almonds or more enticingly one of its pastries containing prosciutto di Parma. When I tracked down the truck for a third time, I tried the “El Matador.” Chorizo, potatoes, and Mexican spices seemed a tasty blend, but like the beef before it, the sausage too had been exhausted of its flavor. A Mexican hot chocolate was similarly disappointing, tasting and feeling watery though supposedly made with milk.
The lines during visits to truck stops at the Federal Center SW and Capitol South Metrorail stations were plenty long, full of young federal workers and Hill staffers eager to tweet for their meals. Though opening-day jitters slowed the operation to a pace unfit for a fast-food truck, the Leis were much more efficient the second time I ate there. If there’s promise for quick improvement in DC Empanada’s service, perhaps the same could soon be said for the product. Time will tell.
Washington loves its food trucks, gauging them as much by their Web presences as their cuisine. But there’s always the Unfollow button.
Photos by Benjamin R. Freed