Uptown’s New Chilean Bakery Fills an Empanada Void in Chicago

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Don Pablo’s Kitchen & Bakeshop, an eight-month-old virtual Chilean restaurant in suburban Glenview, will soon open a counter-service cafe in Chicago proper and fill a void in the city’s empanada scene. Spouses and co-owners Pablo Soto and Julie Morrow-Soto plan to launch Don Pablo’s by the second week of February at 1007 W. Argyle Street in Uptown with a menu built around Chilean empanadas: savory baked or fried pockets of dough that are larger than their cousins in Argentina, Colombia, and Venezuela.

Chilean empanadas can be difficult to find in Chicago restaurants, especially after the 2012 closure of Rapa Nui in Irving Park. It’s a sad state of affairs that the couple is eager to rectify. “It gives us tons of responsibility,” says Soto, who immigrated 25 years ago to the U.S. from Santiago, Chile. “The entire reputation of Chilean homemade empanadas is in my hands here in Chicago, and I have to deliver.”

Fans of the ghost kitchen operation, founded in May 2021, will recognize a number of items on the cafe’s menu. There will be seven or eight empanadas such as the Poeta (shrimp, corn, cheese, basil), and the Greek Tragedy (artichoke hearts, cremini mushrooms, kalamata olives, feta), plus breakfast-themed options. Sweets will also be available, such as buttery alfajores and caramel-filled milhoja. Over time, the couple plan to add Chilean ceviches, soups, salads, and more.

At about 800 square feet, Don Pablo’s will have table seating for 10, but it’s designed primarily for takeout and delivery. The restaurant space is brand new, with wood floors, counters, and furnishings intended to create a homey atmosphere — “rustic, like our empanadas,” Soto says. When warm weather arrives, they’ll add another 10 to 12 tables outdoors for patio dining.

Found in nearly every restaurant, corner store, or roadside pit stop in the country, Chilean empanadas are square, and thus stand out from their crescent moon-shaped relatives found across South America. Soto spent three weeks in Santiago in an empanada boot camp with his aunt, learning the recipes in order to create a taste as close to the original as possible.

“We’re respecting the tradition, the heart and soul of this Chilean cuisine,” he says. “We’re the only ones here offering that on a larger scale. I hope we’re up to the task. Hopefully in the future we have some good competition, which I always look forward to.”

Don Pablo’s Kitchen & Bakeshop, 1007 W. Argyle Street, Scheduled to open in mid-February.

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