The Vazquez brothers offer homespun twists on Puerto Rican classics
An empanada is a Latin pastry that spans countries, languages, and a wide range of ingredients. Despite different approaches, the savory turnovers all seem to fill a specific niche in the world of comfort foods. For Steven Vazquez, a lifelong obsession with the empanada led him to give up a career as an airplane mechanic and aeronautical engineer and take up cooking.
When he heard Western North Carolina had a vibrant food-truck scene, Vazquez left California for Hendersonville to be near relatives who had relocated to the region. Vazquez opened Vazbro’s Gourmet Empanadas & Tacos food truck with the help of his brothers Justin and Eli. The business not only allows him to recreate his family classics, such as pernil and mofongo, but he also gets to stretch his skills and experiment with new dishes.
How did you and your brothers wind up opening a food truck?
We’re all [originally] from New Jersey. We’ve always loved to cook, but we went different paths. I joined the Navy and became an airplane mechanic, one brother went into counseling, and my other brother does real estate. I was working on planes [in California] for a long time, and when I’d go to work, I’d make empanadas in the mornings, sometimes with scrambled eggs and bacon inside of them. Other times I’d get creative and do mashed potatoes and ground beef … and people would always say, “These are crazy! You should start a food truck or something.” We kept talking about it and talking about it and, finally, my oldest brother said that he would help us buy a food truck if we wanted to do it.
Have you always been into cooking?
I’m Puerto Rican, and I learned to cook at a really young age, [from my] mother. I had to have been 5 years old when I was cooking already. And [empanadas] were what I learned to cook a lot. The traditional style was done with ground beef, olives and onions in it, which has always been one of my favorite foods. But with the truck, we wanted to do things a little differently.
We do a Philly cheesesteak one that is made just like a Philly cheesesteak, but it’s on the inside. We’re coming out with a Buffalo chicken one, and our Jamaican empanada is a huge hit. We fry it and top it with a mango habanero sauce.
I’ve just always loved to cook. My mom always cooked traditional Puerto Rican food for us — she might make steak and potatoes, or lasagna, or a meatloaf once in a while, but we mostly ate Puerto Rican food every day.
VazBro’s Gourmet Empanadas & Tacos, 2700 Hendersonville Road, Arden. 828-290-8639. The truck will be serving at Sideways Farm & Brewery (62 Eade Road, Etowah) on May 2 and 21, 12-7pm; and at Mountain Brook Vineyards (731 Phillips Dairy Road, Tryon) on May 23, 12-7pm. Check the truck’s Facebook page (@VazBrosET) for daily updates on other stops in the South Mountain area.