Paula Tejeda with empanadas
(Photo courtesy of Myleen Hollero.)

If, from high above, you could pick up California, stretch it out thin from tip to tip and then flip it in a graceful arc over the equator, you’d have a piece of land that looks pretty much like Chile. Last month, CEOs and politicians met in Santiago to discuss Plan Chile-California, a trade agreement that would create a “partnership for the 21st century” in areas such as education, energy and agriculture.

For the past 10 years, though, Paula Tejeda has been quietly working her own brand of business development and cultural exchange, one empanada at a time, in San Francisco’s Mission District. Stroll by the Redstone Building on any Saturday or Sunday to taste for yourself her efforts to connect Chile and California.

empanada dough

Chile Lindo, named for a song extolling the beauty of the country, is a storefront kitchen known and loved in the neighborhood for its meat turnovers. The classic Chilean empanada is simple and instantly recognizable: thinly rolled dough filled with beef, egg, black olives and raisins and then folded into a distinctive trapezoid shape. No lazy half-circles or crazy curried-duck-and-cardamom-with-rhubarb-compote combinations here in Paula’s kitchen. This is the real thing. And very very good.

She carries her savory pastries along Valencia Street during the lunch hour, selling to merchants who can’t leave their shops. You’ll see her offering them to hungry patrons during Friday happy hour at the Make-Out Room and the Latin American Club. On a sunny day, you might even spot her in Dolores Park with her familiar wide, wicker basket. Anyone who can resist Paula’s smile, warm banter and freshly baked empanadas, has a heart — and stomach — of unyielding ice.

One newly converted customer claimed her pastries are even better than Julia’s in D.C, knocking down the queen of empanadas and pushing the never ending East Coast-West Coast rivalry into the world of Latin American meat pies.

folding empanadas

While Paula long ago gave up the rolling pin for the ergonomic convenience of an automatic pastry sheeter, each empanada is still cut, filled and folded by hand. She tracked down a special, rougher grind of beef from a local butcher to mimic hand-minced meat and shops for her cumin and other spices from nearby Bombay Bazar.

Since it opened in 1973, Chile Lindo has passed down through three different owners. After running the kitchen for a few years in the late 1990s, Paula took a break to study at City College and then Mills College. A detour to the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center recently re-fired her business interests. With a business plan in hand and lots of meetings with potential funders, she intends to grow Chile Lindo over the next several years. She needs $50,000 to transform her current kitchen into a café, complete with an espresso machine and comfortable décor and an expanded menu that includes other Chilean sandwiches and snacks.

Currently, a neighboring restaurant loans out their ovens to her. An assistant, Ramon, forms the empanadas, four at a time, in the mornings, and Paula takes to the pavement herself to sell them.

folded empanadas on tray

She’s still teeny tiny micro as businesses go (considering that the SBA defines any bakery with 500 employees or less a small business). Fortunately, the Bay Area is rich with programs that help entrepreneurs incubate their businesses from idea to profit. La Cocina, Women’s Initiative, C.E.O. Women and Renaissance are especially supportive of food ventures, helping countless informal vendors become successful business owners.

As her business grows, she’ll be adding other items to the menu. One that many of us are eagerly awaiting is the hotdog completo, a Chilean specialty that highlights fresh avocado, diced tomatoes and mayonnaise. For now, before the lines grow too long, stop by Paula’s Chile Lindo kitchen and ask for one of her empanadas.

Chile Lindo
Currently serving Saturdays & Sundays, 10 am – 6 pm
2944 16th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 642-8887

Chile Lindo Empanadas 12 May,2009Thy Tran

  • NOthing like street food.

    I remember growing up in the richmond district and always wishing that there were more late night places to get something tasty.

    Fortunately for me, I have spent the last three years in Israel, and there is street food to eat all night, every night.

    The best thing to get are these cheese filled pastries called “Borekas” that are made out of filo dough and served with Tahina and chili sauce.

  • Miriam H. López

    If you have not had these empanadas from Chile Lindo, you must! They are, undoubtly, the best in the world! And Paula is a charm! Excellent food paired with excellent company… what else can you ask for?!

    A Chile Lindo fan since 1998

  • Paulina Rieloff-Nielsen

    I know she happens to be my daughter, she makes not only empanadas but the most delicious and beautiful decorated Tortas. Chielean name for pastry.She works very hard and she loves people.

  • Yeah!!!
    I love this! and empanadas are so good!
    My childhood memories are filled with the tasty flavor of empanadas each sunday.
    Congratulations Paulita, I know you will have a great success, because you are doing this with love and dedication.
    Blessings to you!

  • Paula Tejeda

    Thank you so much for your inspiring words. I am presently working on a business plan, that I will submit next Monday to the Renaissance Entrepreneurial center, and it is a grueling task… but, it’s coming along and this article plus your supportive words are just what fuels my commitment. Muchas gracias!–Paula Tejeda

  • Florencia Solari

    Paula, congratulations!!! I love empanadas!
    I wish you the best for you and your business.
    Love from Australia.

  • Myriam CAbello

    I was so happy to hear by accident that Paula is back in business with Chile Lindo. I used to go on a regular basis to the little restaurant on 16th street for the best Chilean empanadas in California! Now I make special trips from Los Altos to supply myself with these fabulous empanadas, with I buy in large quantities (a dozen for 2 people!) and I freeze some for later (do not last too long really!) They are soooo good that you have to try them to appreciate this comment. I am looking forward to go to the restaurant she opened on 22nd street, which is open in the evenings from Thursday to Sunday from 6:00 p.m. until 11:30 pm, where you can savor the empanadas traditionally with a glass of wine. Thank you to Paula for bringing us back the best flavors of Chilean food!


Thy Tran

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place.

Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website,, to learn more about her culinary adventures.

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