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Quick Bite: Andina brings Peruvian street food to downtown Baltimore | REVIEW

Good ideas have a way of traveling. The empanada, a half-moon-shaped pastry often filled with meat, by some accounts originated in ancient Persia, caught on in Spain during the Moorish invasion, and later arrived in Latin America along with the conquistadors. Today, they’re a staple of street food of countries including Argentina, Colombia and Peru. And then there are cousins: India’s samosa and the Middle East’s fatayer, perhaps the closest descendant to the original, according to the book “Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America" by Sandra Gutierrez.

Charm City residents can now find some tasty versions at Andina, which arrived to downtown’s lunch scene late last fall. The spot comes from married couple Connie De Victorio and Jose Victorio, also behind nearby Puerto 511. A term for a woman of the Andes Mountains, Andina is a way for the couple to honor their own Peruvian heritage while offering a fast lunch alternative to chains.

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Running two restaurants? “Yes, it’s a lot of work,” De Victorio said. “But it’s gratifying… We’re ambassadors for Peru.”

First impressions: The interior of the corner restaurant is new and spotless. De Victorio’s megawatt smile is an instant mood booster; between manning the cash register and walking around the shop, she remembers names and faces and goes out of her way to tend to guests.

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Must tries: The menu offers seven kinds of empanadas: the golden exteriors bubble and flake in all the right ways, creating the perfect package for the filling inside. Our favorite was the traditional ($3.99), dusted in powdered sugar and filled with an ambrosial mixture of beef, caramelized onions, raisins and olives. It’s a classic combination in Argentina, and seems primed to take over the world. (Seriously, we should all be mixing olives, raisins and beef). We also were fans of the huachana ($3.99), which mix egg and housemade sausage. Oriental and lomo saltado versions offer tributes to Chifa, the fusion of Chinese and Peruvian flavors that is so popular in Peru. Everything comes with a selection of house-made sauces like a delectable homemade chimichurri.

A great crust could easily mask subpar fillings, but at Andina, they taste fresh and substantial, like something you’d expect as an entree at the more upscale Puerto 511. That’s also true of offerings like the seco bowl ($11.99), a beautifully garnished combination of slow roasted beef, beans, salads and sauces atop white rice.

Special touches: For dessert, there’s quinoa flan ($6) and alfajores ($2.75), which feature a thick layer of dulce de leche sandwiched between two biscuits, and are an ideal accompaniment to afternoon coffee. Or try a bright burgundy drink called chicha morada ($3), a sweet Peruvian beverage made from purple corn and rich in antioxidants and other nutrients.

Pro tip: Don’t be alarmed by the blue ink on your lunch: the empanadas are stamped with edible dye so that you can tell which is which. After overindulging during two recent visits I was ready for a nap. Next time I visit, I’ll try to restrain myself and just order two — which would be plenty.

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Bottom line: De Victorio and her husband are welcoming downtown’s lunch crowd, and if the line at Andina during a recent visit is any indication, Baltimoreans are happy to step inside. The couple has been pleasantly surprised by the global diversity of their clientele — turns out, everyone in the world likes empanadas, the snacks that are as delicious as they are portable.

Open for lunch Monday through Friday. 101 W. Lexington St., Downtown. 410-576-1100. andinaempanadas.com

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