Skip to main content
Shedd Aquarium

Best Empanadas in Chicago at Cafe Tola

A blending of delicacies in a Lakeview venue with colorful Mexican pizzazz and an adventurous menu of daily crafted homemade empanadas and wickedly-delicious coffees guaranteed to rock your world.

Nov 24, 2023 Food & Beverage

Empanadas may have originated in Spain and Portugal, but it's hard to say Cafe Tola's homemade pastries don't belong right here in Chicago.

Since the city’s founding, Chicago has been a destination for immigrants arriving from every corner of the earth. From Pilsen to the Ukrainian Village, the city's multicultural neighborhoods make for an intoxicating worldwide mix of food, music and art that makes the city one of the great epicenters of diversity. This blending of delicacies is at its best at the family-run Cafe Tola that bursts with colorful Mexican pizzazz and an adventurous menu of homemade empanadas and wickedly-delicious coffees, served fresh daily at four locations in Chicago.

Empanadas being filled and assembled. A painting of a woman Vegtables roast on the grill in preperation to become empanada filling.

When the husband-and-wife team of Victoria and Gerardo Salamanca set out to open an empanada and espresso café, little did they know that it would expand into a small empire within four years. All they knew was that they had a good recipe.

Each flavorful offering is inspired by Victoria's grandmother, the family matriarch with whom Victoria shares a name. (As a matter of fact, "Tola" is short for Victoria, so even the café carries on the tradition.) As the younger Tola tells it: her grandparents arrived in the United States and made a living by working on strawberry farms, selling food at Chicago flea markets, and running their own taverns and restaurants on the city's South Side—all while raising 12 kids. Her grandmother's ability to bring food and family together was a defining trait, which Victoria tries to embody whenever she creates another signature dish.

In the space itself, murals of Frida Kahlo cover the walls, a tribute to the empowering Mexican painter. But the highlight of Cafe Tola is its selection of fresh, delicious empanadas—a rotating selection ranging from traditional chicken salsa verde to a spicy red-pork creation that’ll melt your face off. Be sure to leave room for dessert, as you won’t want to skip out on the Nutella and Banana or the All-American Apple Pie empanadas. If you're in the neighborhood for breakfast, the chunky egg-and-chorizo — with its blistered, densely-packed, tightly-crimped pastry—is a must-try. It pairs perfectly with offerings from Cafe Tola’s famous espresso bar, where iced coconut coffees cool your jets in the summertime and spicy-hot mochas make Chicago’s notorious winter months a little more bearable.

The name Empanada comes from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning “to wrap unique combinations of meats, cheeses and vegetables.” In a way, it's a fitting parallel to Cafe Tola itself, which wraps Victoria's cooking in the unique essence of this culturally rich city. Here you’ll find that every visit leads to another adventure of diverse flavors and impeccable taste.

Discover more Illinois Artisans at Illinois Made.

Share this story

Related Reads

Field of pumpkins with a horse and carriage in the background
Farms & Orchards

The Great Pumpkin Patch

Apr 1, 2024
Read More
Bread
Food & Beverage

Hewn Bakery

Oct 4, 2023
Read More
People drinking beer
Food & Beverage

BrickStone Brewery

Nov 1, 2017
Read More
Cheesecake
Food & Beverage

Chicago Style Cheesecakes

Apr 28, 2017
Read More
Barrels
Distilleries

Chicago’s North Side Distillery

Apr 19, 2017
Read More

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get inspired by top travel stories, gain access to exclusive promotions and contests, and discover even more reasons to #EnjoyIllinois.