Empanadas vs Pastelillos: A Taste Test Showdown

Empanadas and pastelillos are two delectable pastries enjoyed in different parts of the world, each with its own unique characteristics and cultural influences. Empanadas originated from Spain but were widely embraced in Latin America. On the other hand, pastelillos have their roots in Caribbean cuisine, particularly in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

As a passionate food enthusiast, I have had the pleasure of indulging in both empanadas and pastelillos, and I must say, the experience of savoring these delectable treats is truly remarkable. Let me take you on a journey to explore the differences and similarities between empanadas and pastelillos.

Empanadas vs Pastelillos

Empanadas vs Pastelillos: An Overview

As I have said that empanadas and pastelillos are two similar-looking dishes. You need a lot of discussion to get a clear idea about these two. But before that, to get a basic idea, I am presenting you Empanadas vs Pastelillos head to head table.

OriginSpain; popular throughout Latin AmericaPuerto Rico
DoughWheat flour, water, fat (butter or lard)Flour, water, salt, vegetable shortening
Size and ShapeVarious shapes and sizesSmall turnovers
FillingMeat, seafood, cheese, vegetables, sweetPicadillo, cheese, seafood
Seasonings/SpicesRegional variationsSofrito, adobo
Cooking MethodBaked or friedDeep-fried
Regional VariationsVaries by country (Argentina, Chile, etc.)Predominantly associated with Puerto Rico
empanadas vs pastelillos

Note here that the differences between empanadas and pastelillos given in this table may vary based on regional preferences and individual recipes.

Empanadas vs Pastelillos: Detailed Discussion

Empanadas vs Pastelillos

Well, now that I’ve given you the basics of empanadas and pastelillos, it’s time to go into detail. In this detailed discussion, you will get clarity about these two foods. So why delay, let’s go.

Origin Differences

Empanadas were first introduced in Spain. It is a popular dish throughout Latin America. Each country in the province adds its unique twist to the recipe.

Pastelillos is a traditional dish in Puerto Rico and deeply rooted in Puerto Rican cuisine.

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Differences In Dough

To make empanadas, you need to prepare a dough with wheat flour, water, and fat such as butter or lard. It is usually rolled and folded over the filling.

Pastelillos feature a flaky pastry dough made of flour, water, salt, and vegetable shortening. The dough is rolled out and cut into circles or squares.

Size and Shape

I found that Empanadas are of different shapes and sizes in different regions. Some are crescent or half-moon-shaped and some are rectangular or round. Sizes can range from bite-sized to large, meal-sized portions. Pastelillos are comparatively smaller and more uniform in size. They are often shaped as small turnovers, looking like small empanadas.

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Filling Differences

Among the different fillings, you will find different types of meat, such as beef, chicken, seafood, cheese, etc. There are also vegetables and even sweet options like fruit or dulce de leche for you.

Likewise, Pastelillos come with a variety of delicious fillings. Popular options are picadillo (seasoned meat), cheese, or a combination of the two. Seafood like crab or lobster is also enjoyed in Puerto Rican pastelillos.

Seasonings and Spices

Common spices used in empanadas include cumin, paprika, oregano, garlic, and onion. However, these spices may vary based on regional influences.

Pastelillos are often seasoned with a combination of sofrito, which is a flavor base made of onions, peppers, garlic, and herbs, and adobo, which is a spice mixture that usually contains garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, salt, and pepper.

Cooking Method

Empanadas are traditionally baked in the oven but are now also enjoyed fried.

Pastelillo is usually deep-fried until golden brown and crispy. This method of roasting gives them their characteristic texture.

Regional Variations

Different provinces have different acceptance of empanadas. I’ve seen empanadas in Argentina baked and served with a variety of fillings. On the other hand, Chilean empanadas are large, baked, and filled with seasoned beef, olives, and raisins.

Although pastelillos are commonly associated with Puerto Rico, similar dishes exist throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. Variations include the Jamaican patty and Dominican “pastelito.”

Similarities Beween Empanadas And Pastelillos

Can you be clear about empanadas and pastelillos just by knowing the differences above? Don’t you need to know their similarities? Definitely needed. And so I will now share with you some notable similarities between empanadas and pastelillos.

  1. Delicious Pastries: Both are delicious pastries that are enjoyed as a delicious snack or a main course in many places around the world.
  2. Portable and convenient: Both empanadas and pastelillos are handheld meals, which you can eat on the go or as a quick meal option.
  3. Dough encasing: The filling is held together in a dough casing during the preparation of both dishes.
  4. Regional Favorites: Both are beloved culinary delights in Latin American cuisine. While empanadas are popular throughout Latin America, pastelillos hold a special place in Puerto Rican cuisine.
  5. Versatile Fillings: You get many options for fillings for both pastries. Both empanadas and pastelillos can be stuffed with meat, seafood, cheese, and vegetables.
  6. Cultural Significance: Both empanadas and pastelillos have cultural significance. They are served at celebrations, festivals, and family gatherings as a traditional and iconic dish in different regions.
  7. Crispy Texture: Both have a crispy exterior when cooked. This texture adds a delightful contrast to the savory fillings, creating a satisfying eating experience.


How do the doughs of empanadas and pastelillos differ?

Empanada dough is typically made with wheat flour, water, and fat, while pastelillo dough includes flour, water, salt, and vegetable shortening. 

Can you find sweet variations of empanadas and pastelillos?

Yes, both can be filled with sweet ingredients such as fruit fillings or dulce de leche. Sweet variations of these foods are so popular.

Which cooking method is more traditional for empanadas and pastelillos?

Empanadas are traditionally baked but nowadays it can be found fried. On the other hand, pastelillos are deep-fried until golden brown. 

Are there specific seasonings used in empanadas and pastelillos?

Empanadas can have various seasonings including cumin, paprika, and oregano. Pastelillos’ common incorporates are sofrito and adobo.

Are empanadas and pastelillos traditionally eaten on specific occasions?

Empanadas and pastelillos are enjoyed on various occasions as street food, appetizers, party snacks, or as part of festive celebrations, highlighting their versatility in different settings.

Can you freeze empanadas and pastelillos for later consumption?

Yes, both empanadas and pastelillos can be frozen before or after cooking. Freezing allows for convenient storage and future enjoyment, making them a practical choice for meal prep or leftovers.


In my opinion, both empanadas and pastelillos are delightful treats that offer unique flavors and textures. Empanadas, with their Spanish origins and widespread popularity in Latin America, offer a diverse range of fillings that cater to various tastes and preferences. On the other hand, pastelillos bring a taste of the Caribbean to the table.

Ultimately, whether you prefer the Latin American flair of empanadas or the Caribbean charm of pastelillos, both of these savory pastries offer a delicious culinary experience. They showcase the rich cultural heritage and diverse culinary traditions of their respective regions. 

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