• Home
  • >
  • Latam
  • Latin Comfort Foods Winning Over Gen Z Americans

Latin Comfort Foods Winning Over Gen Z Americans

Mac-and-cheese, meatloaf, grilled cheese and tomato soup: quintessential comfort foods. But the U.S. palate is evolving trending toward spicier concoctions, especially those that hail from Latin America, explaining the rising popularity of such items as empanadas and quesadillas.

“Empanadas are comfort food for Latin Americans, and our American clients love them; they’re the first thing to go at parties,” Patricia Bernard, owner of The Empanadas Café in New York, recently told NBC News. She said when she first opened her restaurant two decades ago, people didn’t know what an empanada was.

Empanadas – pastry turnovers filled with a variety of savory ingredients – are either baked or fried and also can be known as empanadillas or pastelillos. They’re similar to meat pies popular in other cultures like pasties in England, Natchitoches hand pies in Louisiana, and Russian blintzes.

Brizo FoodMetrics noted 11% of all U.S. restaurants served Mexican food in 2020, making it the second most popular food overall behind the typical U.S. menu.

Rooted in Cultural Traditions

“Latin American comfort foods have an irresistible appeal that stems from a combination of factors,” Connor Ondriska, co-founder and e-learning expert from SpanishVIP, told The Food Institute. “These dishes are often deeply rooted in cultural traditions and hold a special place in people’s hearts.

“From hearty stews like feijoada in Brazil to aromatic mole sauces in Mexico, these foods evoke a sense of nostalgia and connection to heritage.”

Osiris Hoil, CEO of District Taco, told FI the appeal of Latin dishes lies in the spices and marinated meats, and restaurants are better off creating such dishes in-house than getting them from large foodservice companies.

“We stress the importance of well-seasoned, authentic flavors. Making dishes in-house gives control over those fresh ingredients and authenticity. The focus should be on preserving the genuine flavors of Mexico,” Hoil said.

The Latest Trends

When it comes to tacos, Hoil said, one new movement involves experimenting with unique fillings and innovative salsas.

“In the future, quesadillas might become a big favorite in Latin American cuisine. They’re like a trendy version of pizza, using tortillas instead of dough. Quesadillas offer a fusion of flavors and can create multiple combinations, much like pizzas.

“While pizza remains a classic in American food, quesadillas could gain popularity as a fresh and flavorful alternative.”

Colombian and Salvadoran dishes could also soon gain momentum.

“One emerging favorite is the Colombian dish called bandeja paisa, which features a generous assortment of grilled meats, beans, rice and plantains,” Ondriska said. “In terms of future favorites, keep an eye on lesser-known treats like Salvadoran pupusas, which are thick corn tortillas filled with cheese, beans or meat and served with curtido, a tangy cabbage slaw.”

Supermarket Perimeter reported in late 2023 that the popularity of Latin American foods has crossed consumer demographics and geographies to go mainstream, driven by Gen Zers who tend to be more flavor conscious.

“Consumers are continuing their culinary tourism, looking to create globally inspired, authentic meals at home,” Tammy Gonzales, marketing manager at Cargill, told Supermarket Perimeter, adding:

“Latin inspired dishes are widely consumed across shopper demographic segments and are becoming the rising star in the comfort food consumers are seeking.”