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Chileans find second home at ‘Sabores Chilenos’ in Sweetwater


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What: Sabores Chilenos.

Where: 10760 West Flagler St., Suite 678.

Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.-2 a.m.; Fri., 8 a.m.-11 p.m.

For info: Call 305-554-4484.

Special to the Miami Herald

More than 20 years ago, Chileans Ingrid and Pierre Encina celebrated their honeymoon in Miami.

But what was a celebration turned into a business success story.

Since 1997, Ingrid and her family have operated Sabores Chilenos — 10760 West Flagler St., Suite 678, in Sweetwater — serving authentic dishes from the South American country. The restaurant is located at the West Flagler Plaza right next to a veterinarian office.

Chilean Vilma Taylor travels from Fort Lauderdale about twice every two months to eat her favorite dish from her country. It gives her a feel of nostalgia.

“I love to eat Pastel de Choclo — a typical Chilean dish consisting of mashed sweet corn, ground beef, chicken, black olives, onions or hard boiled eggs baked in the oven and served on a clay plate,” he said. “I can’t cook it at home because I don’t have time. The empanadas are delicious, just like every dish on the menu.”

Taylor’s 15-year-old son, Rock Riquer, said that coming to the restaurant is taking a break from the typical food he eats at home.

“It’s nice to come here, so I can get in touch with my Chilean ways,” he said. “I usually eat Mexican food at home. I enjoy the empanadas. I experience other stuff, too.”

Ingrid Encina was a secretary in her home country and saw opportunities when she arrived to the United States.

“Little by little, we stayed and tried to achieve success — just like any other immigrant — in turning our dreams into reality,” she said. “We didn’t come to start a business.”

She opened up Sabores Chilenos after having much success selling empanadas — baked bread stuffed with chicken, onions, black olives, eggs and ground beef — out of her home.

“There was large demand,” the West Miami resident said. “Our empanadas are made in the oven. I started to build a clientele from my house. Once I noticed it had become a factory, we decided to open the business.”

When it opened, the restaurant wasn’t even half the size it is now: Patrons ate standing at a counter in a 750-square-foot location. Now, the business has expanded and includes a bakery, where customers can also choose from a large Chilean wine selection, arts and crafts for purchase, and T-shirts representing the country’s famous soccer teams.

“Our growth was successful from the first day,” she said. “From the first day we opened, it was packed. It was a small restaurant.”

Although it has increased in size, their way of cooking hasn’t changed, as everything that is served is made in-house.

Inside the eatery, patrons are welcomed by hanging Chilean flags and authentic arts and crafts. The majority of employees — which include Ingrid Encina’s family — hail from Chile and work while wearing the country’s flag colors of red, white and blue. The location is a popular place for South Florida’s Chilean residents to meet.

“This is a location where Chileans meet, and it is a diverse community,” she said.

Sabores Chilenos celebrates the country’s independence, hosts singers from the South American country, and makes a party out of soccer games.

Customer Roberto Rojas celebrated his birthday with a typical seafood dish.

“You can’t find this food anywhere,” he said. “This fish, for example, tastes delicious because it is from warm waters. It has a different taste, like from the ground.”

Rojas purchases empanadas and baked goods and sends it to his daughters who live in Georgia and North Carolina.

Encina says that because Sweetwater is diverse, patrons from many different countries enjoy her country’s foods — but for Chileans, it’s really something special.

“Anyone who misses Chile has everything here,” she said.

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