I work a block away from the new Panas Gourmet Empanadas on Elm Street in downtown Bethesda, and have been waiting for its arrival all summer. It looked like a great new lunch option to add to a mix of choices near me.
Once it opened, I went with my friend Aileen to check it out and was immediately impressed with the decor and menu. The design was sleek and modern, along the lines of mainstays Cava Grill and Sweetgreen on Bethesda Row.
If you were going to order just for yourself, your have a choice of four combinations: an order of three empanadas, three empanadas plus a salad, and then four or six empanadas. You can also choose “canoas” (platters to share) or make a meal out of salads and sides. Each meal also comes with choice of dipping sauces and plantain chips.
Aileen and I each decided to get a combo of three empanadas while selecting different sauces so we could compare them. My empanada order included the smoked eggplant (eggplant, onions, red peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, and mozzarella), Popeye (sautéed spinach and onions, golden raisins, cream, and goat cheese), and chicken pesto (grilled chicken with fresh pesto, tomatoes, and onions).
I definitely liked the flavors I choose, and we both agreed that the veggie empanadas tasted slightly better than the ones with meat, but with so many options to choose from, we would have to go back to try the other varieties. I think my favorite was the smoked eggplant. The Popeye was great too and tasted a little like Spanakopita.
We tried all the sauces offered: Salsa Verde, Aji, Chimi, and Pimentón. They ranged from mild to spicy to smoky, and it was fun to taste all the different combinations. The empanadas themselves are small, so you can easily eat three and not feel stuffed while four would do the trick if you are especially hungry.
All this plus fresh plantain chips came out to only $7. Not bad for a filling meal that isn’t a salad or sandwich. I hope Panas does well in the area both during the day and as a convenient dinner option. They also have a location in Dupont Circle next to the soon-to-open Tasti D-Lite (which I may or may not be counting down the days till it opens…)
Bottom line: check out Panas. Julia’s Empanadas might be the queen of empanadas in this town, but Panas may give it a run for its money.