The lunch crowd suffers from no shortage of options along the strip of East Santa Clara Street running through the heart of downtown San Jose. At midday, the corridor is awash with desk jockeys and blue collar workers, all on the hunt for a quick bite—and everything from sandwiches to sushi, burritos to bibimbap is within reach. From the SAP Center to City Hall, appetites are satiated with Indian, Mexican, Greek, Vietnamese and American food.

Now, a newcomer is serving a less common but no less delicious on-the-go snack. The fast-casual Claudia’s Pastes specializes in hot and portable pastry pockets, which are stuffed with either sweet or savory fillings, folded and baked until golden brown.

Drawing from both Latin and English influences, the pastes served at Claudia’s can be traced back to Mexico’s Hidalgo region, where they emerged in the 19th century—an adaptation of the traditional Cornish pasty. When Cornish builders emigrated to Mexico to mine silver in the 1800s, they brought their meat-and-vegetable pie with them. Then as now, the hearty handheld meal made for an ideal lunch.

Pastes differ from empanadas in two key ways. First, their stuffing is not cooked before baking, and their outer dough is both denser and richer than that of empanadas. Second, they’re much bigger, as evidenced by Claudia’s menu.

Claudia’s serves 17 different types of pastes, all stuffed with a variety of fillings—including mole, chipotle chicken, vegetables, fruit and even breakfast foods.  At $5.75 each, they’re well-priced, especially given that one alone should easily put a dent in any appetite.

When I visited Claudia’s on a quiet Sunday afternoon, I was greeted warmly and directed toward a small whiteboard with the day’s selections. I opted for a little bit of everything, starting with the original beef paste and the poblano chicken paste. The beef paste was loaded with ground beef, onion and potato, while the poblano chicken was filled with shredded chicken, chunks of poblano pepper and a creamy chipotle sauce. Both came out piping hot and bubbling at the edges where the filling was beginning to ooze out.

I cut them in half and was surprised by the sheer amount of stuffing contained within each meat pie. One bite in, I was hooked: from the flavors of the stuffing to the flaky, buttery outer crust, every bite I took tasted better than the last. With rich flavors of onion, garlic and paprika distributed throughout, the ground beef paste was moist, flavorful and well-spiced but not tongue-torching. A few dashes of one of the many hot sauces Claudia’s keeps on hand, however, satisfied my craving for heat. The chicken paste was similarly complex in flavor, due in large part to the cheesy chipotle cream that coated the shredded chicken and pepper chunks. Still, it was never overwhelming in flavor or texture.

After finishing the beef and poblano chicken paste, I was stuffed, but I wasn’t satisfied with my sampling. I ordered the spinach-and-feta, mushroom and apple pastes to try later. On the drive home I was too curious to stop myself from taking a bite of the apple paste—one of Claudia’s three sweet options (the other two are pineapple and rice pudding). The apple was baked well, not overly saccharine, and was flavored with just a touch of cinnamon. It was like warm apple pie.

Later that day, I learned that Claudia’s offerings are just as delicious warmed up at home as they are fresh from the restaurant. The vegetarian options I tried that evening for dinner were as delectable as their meat-filled counterparts from earlier in the day, only lighter, with a more delicate flavor.

The mushroom paste stood out in particular for its variety of fresh fillings, including thick slices of mushroom, red bell peppers, spinach, onion and mozzarella cheese. I appreciated that the paste had more veggies in it than cheese. The spinach-and-feta paste also included chunks of potato, which helped to tone down the saltiness of the feta cheese.

The next time you’re looking for a quick bite in downtown San Jose, consider Claudia’s. Perfect for breakfast, lunch, as an afternoon snack or on the go, Claudia’s is a welcome addition to the ever-bustling East Santa Clara Street.

Claudia’s Pastes
30 E Santa Clara St #130, San Jose