ST. PETERSBURG — Julio’s Latin Twist, a restaurant specializing in empanadas and Caribbean cuisine, has opened in the Tyrone area with a big opening party planned on Friday, July 14.
Julio Pagan, 40, of St. Petersburg also owns the Julio’s Empanadas food truck, which operates on weekends in Gulfport while work continues on a Gulfport brick-and-mortar location that is set to open in August.
The Tyrone area restaurant, at 7815 38th Ave. N in St. Petersburg, has a wide range of empanadas on its menu, as well as mofongo, the iconic Puerto Rican dish of mashed and fried plantains smashed with garlic, meat and other rich flavors. And the specialty of the house is Julio’s deviled crab dishes including a deviled crab burger on a brioche bun. There are also vegetarian bean options, and Pagan said he is currently tinkering with vegan and gluten-free empanadas, “but I’m working to amp up the flavors.”
Pagan moved from New Jersey in 2004 and worked as a chef at the award-winning Mise en Place in Tampa before he opened his own restaurant, Julio’s Ultimate Latin Grill in Brandon, in 2011. From there he expanded to Julio’s Gourmet in Brandon and Spanglish Bistro in Valrico.
The pandemic, which sent so many restaurants into crisis, was “like a reset button for me,” Pagan said. He moved to St. Petersburg and is now working on opening his two restaurants with plans for more.
Though he is of Puerto Rican heritage, he said growing up in New Jersey exposed him to a wide variety of Italian and other ethnic foods and he incorporates that into his empanada creations.
“I take a little bit of flavor from everywhere for gourmet empanadas,” Pagan said.
His traditional beef empanada has a 90/10 Angus beef blend in a white garlic sauce. He also has some with chorizo and jalapeno steak, a loaded meatball empanada with Italian flavors, and chicken with a special sofrito sauce.
“The twist is I take the extra step to make more flavor, make it perfect,” Pagan said. “Who doesn’t love an empanada?”
The restaurant will be closed Mondays. It will be open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays.