Getting High on Empanadas and Yerba Mate

The banana, Ghirardelli chocolate chip and dulce de leche empanada at Original Marini's Empanadas is a crowd pleaser. And everybody loves the apple Gabriella empanada with chunks of apples, dulce de leche and cream cheese too. But my favorite, the fig, cheese and walnut empanada, is a complex, not too sweet pastry that only fig lovers can really appreciate. Try a fig empanada with your next gourd of yerba mate.

When Marini's Empandas first opened in Montrose back in 1971, the half moon-shaped pastries called empanadas were pretty exotic, and the restaurant had a cult following. Marini's got a lot of hippies hooked on the high-buzz tea called yerba mate, which is traditionally served in a gourd with a metal straw. Then the place burned down, and flamboyant founder Marcello Marini went to work for Telemundo.

The Carillion Shopping Center location of Marini's at 10001 Westheimer displays lots of photos and framed mementos from the good old days. (There is another location in Katy.) One of the articles on the wall is Eric Lawlor's 1998 Houston Press review, called "Fry for Me Argentina." In it, Lawlor describes the loquacious mustachioed Marcello holding court in a now closed location of Marini's at 6154 Westheimer. So I guess the Katy and Carillon empanada restaurants are the third coming of Marini's. This place is getting to be a Houston institution.

The empandas are better than ever. Try the Texas BBQ empanada, stuffed with chopped brisket in barbecue sauce; the "gaucho" filled with ground beef, hard-boiled eggs and olives in a soupy picadillo; and the Green Hulk, with chicken, spinach and mushrooms. There are also store shelves in the restaurant stocked with specialties from Argentina, including yerba mate.

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