One of Argentina's signature foods inspiration for DelSur Empanadas

A pair of Argentinian chefs bring their home country's cuisine and culture to Minnesota

Empanadas in a tray
Empanadas are stamped with the name DelSur and a code to show whats inside at DelSur Empanadas Argentinas Wednesday, April 27 in Minnetonka, Minnesota.
Nicole Neri

Walk into DelSur Empanadas in Minnetonka and you’re greeted with a mural taking up the left wall. It’s a visual representation of the well-known Tango “Balada para un loco.”

A menu board on the opposite wall displays the types of empanadas available along with traditional Argentinian sandwiches available. On the counter, a glass case displays different varieties of empanadas.

At lunch time the place is abuzz with customers enjoying a meal and others coming by to pick up take-out orders.

Two men standing in front of a mural
From left, Nicolas Nikolov and Diego Montero, co-owners of DelSur Empanadas Argentinas, pose for a portrait in front of a floor-to-ceiling mural in an expanded section of their restaurant.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

As the lunch rush winds down, the owners and employees at DelSur Empanadas sit at a corner table and have lunch, before heading back to make more empanadas.

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Every culture has a food it’s known for.  And for Argentina that food is empanadas. In Argentina you can find empanadas sold as a street food or as an appetizer in a fancy restaurant, said DelSur co-owner Nico Nikolov.

“Every region in Argentina has different empanadas, the northern part, the southern part, the central part. We grew up with that. And we missed that. We wanted to have that again and introduce that to the Twin Cities,” Nikolov said.

But having a restaurant is not just about having a good product, said Diego Montero, DelSur co-owner. It’s also about providing a cultural experience.

“One of the reasons we started was not only to provide something familiar to people from Argentina, but also to share a little bit of our culture with everyone else,” Montero said.

Nikolov, who is from Buenos Aires, and Montero, who is from Cordoba, met through a mutual friend at a dinner party in Minnesota several years ago. They soon discovered they both had not only gastronomy in common, but the dream of opening a restaurant.

“And after talking for a while, we shared the idea of doing something in the Twin Cities with Argentinian food,” Montero said.

And the rest is empanada history.

Fillings of empanadas
An employee seals the fillings inside of empanadas at DelSur Empanadas Argentinas.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

Although they opened the Minnetonka location in November 2018, they actually began their business years before. They began selling empanadas online, but as Montero recalled with a laugh, that didn’t last long. They then began doing pop-ups at different breweries in the Twin Cities. In 2014 they opened a food truck. DelSur also has a spot at Malcolm Yards.

Nikolov trained at Instituto Argentina de Gastronomia. He was 17 when he decided cooking could be, as he put it, fun.

Montero’s training was all hands on. He grew up in a family involved in gastronomy. From a young age, he worked in a restaurant. And he always enjoyed cooking.

“And then as I got older, I always tried to find that creative outlet through food and working in a small restaurant in Cordoba,” Montero said.

Montero and Nikolov recently expanded the restaurant. 

The wall in the newly added section of the restaurant depicts Tango dancers some holding empanadas and in the center, Argentina’s futbol legend Maradona. The new section not only expands the dining area, but will also be a place to watch futbol matches featuring Argentina and of course the World Cup later this year. They also began having Tango classes. Information on upcoming events can be found on their Instagram and Facebook pages. 

With the new space, they’ve also had schools come through. The children learn about Argentina and get to make and eat their own empanada.

And they recently installed an almacen — a small market area featuring food products imported from Argentina.

In the kitchen, workers prepare more empanadas. The first step is rolling out the dough on a long machine that flattens it into sheets. Nearby a worker cut the dough with a circular cutter. Finally, a third worker took the perfectly round dough and placed it on the empanada press. He filled one side and then folded the press over to create a perfect half-moon shaped empanada.

Woman works with dough
An employee rolls out empanada dough at DelSur Empanadas Argentinas.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

Imprinted on the edge of each empanada is the word DelSur and on the opposite edge is a letter identifying the type of empanada. Each month they make on average 25,000 empanadas. In a busy month it can be more than that, Montero said.

In addition to empanadas, the restaurant sells three types of Argentinian sandwiches – a steak Lomito, a chicken Lomito and a Choripan sandwich. The Choripan is made with an Argentinian sausage. But because they couldn’t find the sausage locally, they began making their own, Nikolov said.

The Choripan is the most famous sandwich in Argentina, Montero said.

“You can find it anywhere after a soccer game, after a concert, on the streets and in restaurants. It's a real staple for us,” Montero said.

The steak Lomito is another well-known sandwich. Lomito translates to little tenderloin.

“It’s very popular in Cordoba, my hometown. You can find lomiterias everywhere,” Montero said.

The steak Lomito has — in addition to steak — lettuce, tomato, ham, cheese and fried egg. Montero stressed that it must have the fried egg. And it’s all prepared on homemade bread.

No menu is complete without desserts. DelSur offers flan, alfajores, masitas and tres leches cake. With the exception of the tres leches cake, which they adopted from their Mexican friends, all the others are very Argentinian.

“I don’t think anything is more Argentinian than flan con dulce de leche,” Nikolov said.

Vicki Adame covers Minnesota’s Latino communities for MPR News via Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.