In the Kitchen: Nathalie and Raymond Rodriguez Bring Empanadas to Cranston

How a cooking couple turned their passion for empanadas into a popular food truck and new brick-and-mortar


Whether you’ve seen them at WaterFire, The Providence Flea, or popping up alongside The Guild’s PVD Beer Garden by the Michael S. Van Leesten Memorial Bridge, Espanglish Empanadas (formerly known as Spanglish)  has become synonymous with  summertime. Now, with their recently opened brick-and-mortar in Cranston, the warm, flavor-filled pockets of goodness are easier to come by all seasons.

Influenced by traditional Latin and American comfort foods, Nathalie and Raymond Rodriguez have devised 18 different empanada styles and fillings, expanding their homemade recipe – and their reach – by attending events and fests across the state.

But before Espanglish was trundling around the city serving empanadas, Nathalie’s itch for entrepreneurship was in part spurred by her parents owning a business when she was younger and the abundance of taco and halal trucks she saw while living in New York in 2010. It was always a dream to have her own truck, but it took losing her corporate job in 2019 to turn that spark into a flame. “When I got laid off and received my severance check, it was almost like a sign. Do something big,” says Nathalie. She used the check and savings to open La Villa Bistro in Pawtucket with her husband,  with her mother-in-law Yvelisse serving as head chef.

La Villa Bistro was a Dominican-inspired restaurant with dishes ranging from traditional steak and onions served with rice and beans to daily rotating entree specials. The five empanadas on the appetizer menu quickly became more popular than the rest of their offerings, which had the couple testing new flavors and eventually adding five more empanada varieties. They even experimented with allowing guests to customize their own, which would be rolled and fried on the spot.

Despite the enthusiasm, 10 months into opening, the pandemic hit and the Rodriguezes made the choice to close their restaurant. Even during the pause, their inbox was flooded with customers requesting food orders, and opening a food truck – in which they wouldn’t have to contend with seating restrictions – was an easy choice. Thus, Espanglish was born.

“As I was building the empanada menu and descriptions, I would write down the ingredients I was putting in them. I would go back and forth from adding one word in Spanish and another word in English,” says Nathalie. “We had a real ‘a-ha’ moment – ‘Spanglish’ should be the name because that is who we are.”

One of the Rodriguezes’ favorite empanadas is El Ma’Duro, consisting of sweet mashed plantains, ground beef, and cheese, inspired by a Dominican and Puerto Rican dish called pastelon, which is prepared differently in each country but is typically similar to a lasagna with layers of plantains, ground beef, and cheese. Fun fact: Nathalie’s love of plantains almost earned the food truck the name of “Plata-nation.”

Along with the care put into choosing the ingredients that go into each filled pastry, the couple also has fun coming up with quirky, clever names for each, like Juana Pizza Me, Crabby Patty, and Pie, Felicia!

Encouraged by the food truck’s success over the years, the Rodriguezes intend to return to their roots by once again introducing some traditional dishes to the take-out restaurant, such as platters of plantain nachos, dressed yuca fries, and more Dominican eats. The food truck will keep making its rounds in Providence and beyond, too.

Looking back on the twists and turns of her culinary journey, Nathalie offers a bit of advice to budding entrepreneurs about taking the leap: “Go for it before someone else does,” she says. “If it wasn’t for my husband, who is a risk taker, I would’ve just stayed in the planning phase and would’ve overthought my business plan.” Now the pair gets to share their love for empanadas with everyone who visits the truck or sets foot inside their restaurant.


Espanglish Empanadas

39 Phenix Ave, Suite 6, Cranston

@espanglishempanadas @espanglishtruck



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  • Junkhussy

    Fantastic! Best of luck to them! Looking forward to indulging!!

    Monday, October 2, 2023 Report this