A decade after Teresa Hayes made 1,000 empanadas for a 1987 Washington street fair, her mother, a baker in Bolivia, shared pastry secrets with her daughter. Hayes spent the next nine years working in the bakery department at Wegmans in Fairfax, bringing her empanadas to company parties and hoping to have her own bakery some day.
“I was known as the empanada lady,” says Hayes. “Then my co-workers started ordering from me.”
On March 31, her dream came true: The 54-year-old Bolivian native and her son, Michael Hayes, opened a bakery and empanada shop in Fairfax called Dulce’s, after her nickname, which means “sweet.”
They have decorated the place with posters of empanadas, cakes and Bolivian villages. Chalkboards get updated as pastries emerge from ovens. There are a few tables, a dozen vinyl-backed chairs and a television. The colorful acrylic-painted front window attracts customers.
A sign advertising two empanadas plus a drink ($5.75) lured me. After ordering a “traditional” beef empanada and a cheese empanada ($2.75 each if sold separately), I watched through a window to the kitchen as Hayes packaged the hot fried empanadas in sturdy recyclable cardboard containers. On several visits, service was quick — about five minutes — until I asked what smelled so heavenly and hung around, nibbling samples of moist corn bread ($1.50).
Several kinds of crimped-edge, flaky-crust empanadas ($2.75 and $3) are available. Except for the mildly spiced ground beef empanada, flavors change daily: chicken, beef-potato or cheese. Specialty empanadas ($3) include the Santa Fe, loaded with small chunks of white-meat chicken, plus black beans, corn, red peppers and translucent onion. The pizza empanada is stuffed with a gooey mix of mozzarella cheese, tomato, green peppers and pepperoni. All the empanadas can be mixed and matched ($15 for six; $26 for 12).
On Thursdays through Sundays, you can order a football-shaped baked saltena, which holds a juicy stew inside a thick shiny crust ($2.75). I was warned: “Break it open before you bite it.”
Good advice. Steam escapes like a volcano. Steak saltena contains bites of tender beef, potato, yellow pepper, peas, scallions and parsley. Chicken is sweeter, with peas, potatoes and red pepper. “In Bolivia, you eat saltenas in the morning, 10 to 12. After 3, they’re not eaten,” Hayes explains. Here, they’re lunch and dinner.
Good anytime is a cauca (75 cents), an open-face roll flattened partway through baking; it’s soft when hot, then hardens into a cracker when cooled. Pastries include Latino favorites such as tres leches cake ($2.50 a slice), alfajores (caramel-filled vanilla wafer sandwich cookies dusted in confectioners’ sugar ($1.25), small Key lime pies ($3.99) and cupcakes ($2.50 and $2.75) in flavors such as Boston creme with chocolate ganache.
But the empanadas sell like, well, hot cakes: 700 on the last Saturday in April, for example. Hayes plans to introduce more flavors: shrimp, jambalaya and chili con carne. “Fusion cuisine,” she jokes.
Dulce’s Bakery and Empanada Shop, 3900-C Pickett Rd., Fairfax; 703-978-8021. www.dulcesbakery.
com. Hours: Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sundays 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.