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Pastelillos vs. pastelitos vs. empanadas

by Robert Rios

Every Latino and Caribbean country has some form of delectable meat-filled patty of goodness! Where you are from will determine its ingredients, individual flavors, and, most importantly, what it’s called. In the Boricua corner, we call them Pastelillos, and will defend such a title to the death, or at least until we’re full! But if you ask our neighbors to the south en la Quisqueyana, or out in Washington Heights, they’d swear to the high heavens the treats are called Pastelitos. To everyone else who is of South American sangre, or who just don’t know the difference, they are called Empanadas. These golden fried pockets of perfection might even remind you of their Jamaican beef patty counterparts, but don’t you dare compare them, that might get you hurt in some hoods.

The biggest difference is the seasonings; my mom makes the best pastelillos known to man, and I can’t fully enjoy any others, as they never ever compare. I can’t tell you what she uses because I will receive adequate cocotazos for revealing such a well-kept family secret. What I can tell you is that while we all claim, “Mi mama/abuelita makes the best,” there are never any two that taste quite the same.

From my experience, the Puerto Rican variety tend to be smaller, and use the Goya dough discs to make. (“Si es Goya, tiene que ser bueno!”) There are, of course, other brands, but the fundamental choices come down to white  or yellow dough, store-bought or made from scratch. The Dominican variety tend to be larger, with more dough than filling. The various forms of other empanadas will be somewhere in between and will differ in taste and ingredients. Some will contain just ground beef, others chicken, and some might go crazy and add cheese or have the cheese stand alone. I’ve tasted some with shrimp, crab, lobster, all from the kioskos de Luquillo, Puerto Rico, my paternal homeland. Then there are the ones that contain various meats and fruit combinations. My Peruvian friend’s Mom would put raisins in her empanadas. There’s even a dessert version, filled with guayaba and covered in confection sugar, that looks more like a slice of lasagna pastry than a hot pocket.

Whether you eat it with coco bread, like our Jamaican Brethren’s golden krusts, or three at a time like I do, our collective stomachs have all reveled in delight, and have built countless unforgettable happy memories involving family, tradition, and, of course, good food! So whatever you call them in your neck of the barrio, buen provecho!

To learn more about Robert, visit REVERBNATION.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


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About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Being a US born DominiRican, I will say that I have tasted billions of pastelitos and pastelillos and to be completely authentic with you, I think that there isn’t much of a difference. The difference I see is with the “chef” not with the country of origin. I have tasted ones by Puerto Ricans and Dominicans that had raisins too. One notable difference I have seen is with empanadas. All that I have had have been baked and they taste way different from pastelitos and pastelillos.

    However I can say #NOMNOMNOM for all of them.

    – @pegaita

  2. Arlene says:

    “I’ve tasted some with shrimp, crab, lobster, all from the kioskos de Luquillo, Puerto Rico” Now those are tear worthy. For me, the ratio between meat and breading should be 2:1 and I LOVE the cheese filled ones!! Delectable read friend. Thanks!

  3. Man, this just made me really crave some right now.

  4. You’ll ALL be HAPPY to know that after reading this article…. Mi Mama is express mailing me some of her Pastelillos!!! :-D

    (@ Arlene… The only thing better @ the kioskos are the taco de jueyes!! MMMM!! AHORA TENGO HAMBRE!!)

  5. Anna Cruz says:

    My husband is from Lares and he will agree that they should only be called pastelillos. After two decades of marriage and many, many trial and errors I’ve come upon a recipe for the carne that he and our family love. The struggle is always the dough. Homemade versions (of mine) sadly fall short and the goya product isn’t always readily available in northern CA.

    You’ve inspired me to take another crack at it though since I’ve had recent success with perfecting family recipes for both budin and arroz dulce con coco!

  6. Anita says:

    Northern New Mexico, (which yes, is part of the United States). Empanaditas, usually made of mince meat and raisins, or prunes and apricot – everything from scratch – yumm!

  7. Glad to be of such deliciously devine inspiration Anna! Keep it up! Never rest until you’ve perfected it! (Then Send ME Some!!! lol)

  8. Nancy Sepulveda says:

    @ Anita, you got me cravin some 505 empanaditas! Love the ones with chopped nuts (And I also love how us Nuevo Mexicanos — I claim ‘Burque — always gotta throw in the ‘yeah it’s part of the U.S., in case you’ve never seen a map’ tagline lol)

  9. nycgirl says:

    great article love them know them as pastelillos I’ve had them with beef chicken and cheese. Love them all no matter where they come from. Every variation is a good thing and a new taste.

  10. my family is from trinidad spanish desentance and we have pastel which is made with beef cornmeal boiled in banna leafes also we have the empanaditas which can be bake or fried but to be honest i really love the jamaican style nothing like it and love that coco bread my husband is from P.R and he only the jamaican patties but he married me trinis ricans have a lot in common

  11. Lissandra C. says:

    Well You said it right, We Dominicans call them pastelitos & they are the best shit known to man. the difference between empanadas & pastelitos are that empanadas are made with yuca not corn or wheat. (: !

  12. PR in Sacramento says:

    I grew up calling them empanadillas, but when I went to Puerto Rico in June, I saw them called Pastellilos. Whatever they are called, they are delicious! I can eat them every day, but my heart couldn’t take it!

  13. veronica says:

    Hi just wanted to say thanks for sharing this beautiful pic of ur food,i am mexican american and i love all types of latin food especially puerto rican food i remember going to puerto rico with my ex went to his home town in yauco we visited there and we got to enjoy the same empandanas and some cold medallas straight frm the island i was in heavennnn i wanted to try that pastery u are talking about so we made our trip for the second time that yr we went to mayaguez to taste el brazo gitano mmmmmmm gypsie arm omg thats all i got to say

  14. Pastelillos rule cono!

    Does anybody have a good recipe for the arroz con jueyes….the kind they serve at Luquillo beach? OMG to die for!

  15. Alba R says:

    You miss one name, I was born and raised in PR and I called them empanadillas. Pastelillos are the ones made with puffy flaky dough (how I love pastelillo de carne with the caramel on top). How you call them in Puerto Rico depends if you are from the west or east part of the island. Just like caldero and olla interchange meanings if you go from the north to the south.

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