As we all know, 54 is the country code for Argentina, and 11 is the local telephone code for Buenos Aires. With that in mind, how could I resist the latest in a recommended list of food trucks that happens to do one thing and one thing only? The answer? I can’t. Mostly because on my days off, I waffle between being hungry and bored.

A while back, the lady friend recommended the 5411 Empanadas Truck for lunch as one of the many trucks that have been floating around downtown this spring. We used to have a taco truck that parked by a construction site close to our house in Seattle, but sadly, I never got a chance to go there. As it’s my duty to explore more of Chicago’s palatable options on this, my second time around in the city, today, I made it my mission to explore my neighborhood on my day-off meanderings about Streeterville.

I got a mid-morning start, and after my coffee, I checked out ye olde Twitter to see where my travels would take me. From the @5411empanadas Twitter feed, I got the following tweets:

Less than a mile away. The time was 11:30. “I’d better get a move on,” I thought.

So, a quick jaunt up the way, wandering around the shaded downtown streets of Chicago led me to the corner of Erie and Rush, and idling underneath a gnarled, Ivy-covered tree, was the sky blue 5411 Mobile.No place that I could find had a menu, but sure enough, they had a chalkboard out front advertising seven different kinds of Empanadas, each for $1.99.

The female customer at the window was speaking colloquially with the heavily accented cashier in Spanish, and from what I inferred from their tone, it was a pleasant conversation. The next woman in line, about thirty years older than the first, came up, ordered two empanadas, and then launched into a story with the cashier about how she had met his father at a party in a small town in Argentina held by one of her dear friends who happened to be the owner of a pharmaceutical company, and the father had mentioned how his son had started a business with empanadas sold in the style of a pizza delivery van in Chicago. How strange that their paths should cross in a manner such as this. In the true fashion of a different generation, she said that she had his father’s card on her desk in Montana, and she would either contact him via email or most likely see him on her next visit to Argentina.

As this conversation drew to a close, the line behind me began growing and pulsing impatiently. He smiled and thanked her, and beckoned me over. We talked for a second about how coincidental it was that she happened upon his father, but as she continued talking, it became clear that she was not in fact a strange character, but someone who interacted indirectly with the man at his summer home in Argentina. Small world indeed.

I realized that I didn’t know what to get. Everything on the menu looked intriguing. With reckless abandon, I threw down my money and ordered one of each, with two cups of the chimmichurri, most easily described as an Argentinian parsley pesto. Two minutes and a thank you later, I was walking down Rush Street with seven Empanadas in hand, blissfully happy, with a warm smell of comfort food hugging my nose.

I got home with my stash (downtown’s still not a place for parking a truck around easy seating/eating areas) and opened up the package. Seven individually wrapped empanadas with labels affixed in the same sky blue.

I put three on a plate- the ham and cheese, barbecue chicken, and beef. They had their own distinct shape and crimping style, and unlike other restaurant empanadas/dumplings, they were actually full of, well, filling.

What I noticed was that Argentinian empanadas differ from the Mexican variety because they are baked, not fried. One drawback, however, as of this writing, is that the dough, which the owners import from Argentina, is made with beef fat, according to an article in the Tribune from a while back. Since I had selected the meat varieties for my own consumption and left the vegetarian ones for my lady, I was sad to find out that she might not be able to enjoy them, so I wrote an email to the proprietors asking if the non meat-filled empanadas were made with the beef fat dough. We’ll see. I’ll keep you all posted.

Back to the hot pockets. The beef was flavorful with bits of cooked egg, and the ham and cheese was a firm blend of thin sliced ham and a decent, binding cheese. My favorite, though, was the barbecue chicken, with a sweet sauce which was speckled with raisins. A great empanada is made better with the addition of raisins. There are few things that are better. I’ve had some great ones at El Tapatio on North Ashland, but these were just great. Take a look at the Ham and Cheese.

Week four. The consensus is that as a total package, this place delivers on the same level that Tamalli Space Charros has, with traditionally prepared dishes that are modernized for an American public. I think we don’t notice it as much with Macaroni and Cheese because it’s everpresent on our dinner plates. We already put hotdogs and ketchup on our mac and cheese, along with peas, crab, potato chips, cheese crackers, and everything else we can wrap our minds around, so this trend isn’t too new. (Thanks, Hamburger Helper!)

With unfamiliar foods, we can challenge our palates to accept something new (Argentinian food) while embracing something familiar (BBQ chicken). It also gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to challenge their cultural culinary norms while addressing the needs and wants of their customer base. I see it as a good thing, and something that is stimulating to not only the food truck industry, but more importantly food culture as a whole.

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