Welcome to The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.
48: The Dizzy Fig Empanada at República Empanada in Mesa.
An empanada, in many ways, is the perfect food: highly portable and deliciously carb-y, versatile enough to be made sweet or savory (or simultaneously savory-sweet), and frequently irresistible.
Since opening its doors in 2013, República Empanada in Mesa has showcased the versatility and creative potential of the classic pan-Latin comfort food snack. The restaurant, run by the Meraz family, offers what might be the biggest selection of savory and sweet empanadas in Arizona. The modern empanadería has also helped energize the downtown Mesa food scene, turning a somewhat run-down venue in the historic Southside Heights neighborhood into a stylish spot with midcentury appeal and an uncommon menu.
There are more than 20 empanadas on the República Empanana menu, which includes a strong selection of dessert empanadas. We have a soft spot for the Dizzy Fig, though. It’s stuffed with Mesa-grown figs and mozzarella cheese, and touched with a dab of rich dulce de leche – an Arizona-inspired turnover by way of South America. This small, ambrosial empanada achieves a sophisticated balance, in turns sweet and savory. It's designed to be demolished in a couple of bites, but will probably linger in the recesses of your memory for much longer.