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Doesn't this man deserve his empanada?
Doesn't this man deserve his empanada?

From the Driver’s Seat: The Quest Goes Uzbeki

Doesn't this man deserve a great empanada?

My last weekend shift before I take off for Berlin was my last chance to hunt down an empanada that would measure up to Daniel Beccaria‘s Buenos Aires standards.

I’d already struck out at 10 Argentine restaurants and one Chilean place. Uptown, downtown, around Little Argentina – not one of those empanadas was good enough for the former cabbie.

It was time to play a final, desperate card.

Back in November, thanks to a tip from cab driver Eduard Zavlanov, I stumbled upon some samsas from Tandoori Food & Bakery. Between the cumin-scented beef and the gorgeously crispy dough, the Bukharan meat pies tasted strangely similar to the best empanadas I’d eaten in Argentina at the National Empanada Festival in Famailla, Tucuman.

Obviously, I knew that Tandoori’s glorious dumplings weren’t the same as an Argentine empanada. But their meat and pastry synergy provoked an Empanada Festival-like euphoria in me. Could they do the same for Daniel?

Around lunchtime on Sunday, I sped over the Queensboro Bridge and picked up five samsas to go at Tandoori (three for Daniel, two for me).

By the time I pulled into the parking lot at Team Systems Taxi Fleet, one samsa was gone – as delicious as I remembered, and well worth the stain on my shirt. The remaining four were still warm.

I sprinted to the cashier’s window and handed the bag to Daniel: “They’re not exactly empanadas, but I want you to try these and tell me what you think.”

I ran off to finish my shift so he could taste them in the privacy of the garage, without my expectant eyes on him.

Several hours, one World Cup game (I wondered how many Buenos Aires cabbies were on duty and listening, as I was, to the radio broadcast of the Argentina v. Mexico match) and another harrowing journey to JFK later, I turned in my taxi and handed over my receipts to Daniel.

“Well?” I said.

A Tandoori samsa (similar to a samosa but baked in a clay oven rather than fried) with cilantro-tomato dipping sauce.

“It’s what we’ve been saying all along,” Daniel said, “They’re not — ”

I could feel my face fall.

“But I loved the dough,” he reassured me, “It was really good. And they cut the beef in chunks and it’s not cooked too much. And they put cumin. I like that. My mom uses cumin in hers. Where are they from?”

“They’re ’empanadas’ from Uzbekistan,” I said.

“I would’ve never guessed that,” he said, “I have a party coming up. I’ll go pick up a dozen.”

I was glad Daniel wanted more samsas, but I felt I was leaving the empanada quest as unresolved as a World Cup tie: no one won, no one lost, and the players walked off the field wishing they could have done more.

Tandoori Food & BakeryMap it
99-04 63rd Rd., Rego Park, Queens
Tel. 718-897-1071
Closed Friday afternoon until Saturday evening
Cash only

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  1. Hi,

    Was this a kosher place? I would luv to try them. Gute Fahrt Layne!

  2. Hmm, now can you trust his judgement if he’s only picking up a dozen for a party? Haha…

    Can’t wait to try this place, but Tangra Masala first!