Kansas City restaurant brought Messi empanadas at his hotel. And he gave them a gift

Isolina De La Vega and her husband, Dario, have been soccer fans since they were little, she said, hovering her hand close to the ground.

The couple moved to Kansas City from Tucuman, Argentina, two years ago and opened their Argentine restaurant, Los Hornos (“the ovens”), months later. Like many Argentines, the futbol-lovers cheer for fellow countryman Lionel Messi every time he takes the field, no matter the team he plays for.

So when Messi’s current team, Inter Miami, flew in to play Sporting KC on Saturday, they were hell-bent on meeting him.

“He’s the most important person in Argentia, I think, at the moment,” Isolina said.

The restaurant, 10004 N.W. Executive Hills Blvd., is right off Interstate 29, near the Kansas City International Airport. The couple had hoped the star soccer player would stop for empanadas, dulce de leche or yerba mate after he landed.

They plastered a banner across the back of their restaurant that could be seen from the freeway.

“Leo, te estamos esperando! Messi, we’re waiting for you!”

Messi didn’t show up, so the couple initiated Plan B. Isolina wouldn’t say exactly how they found out which hotel Messi was staying at, but they showed up bearing empanadas and crossed their fingers. After waiting around for a few hours, they spotted a chef with an Inter Miami badge walking around the hotel.

They handed their empanadas off to the chef and asked in Spanish, “Would you give this to Messi?”

Los Hornos sells empanadas, a traditional Argentine turnover stuffed with meat, cheese and other fillings.
Los Hornos sells empanadas, a traditional Argentine turnover stuffed with meat, cheese and other fillings.

Messi and his teammates were in another room. The chef agreed to bring him the empanadas (after he tried them first), and he returned bearing a word from the players.

“He sent us a message … that they loved the empanadas,” Isolina said.

As a gift, the chef gave the couple a jersey, ball and Argentine flag, all signed by Messi. Inside her restaurant on Tuesday, Isolina held up the jersey and smiled.

She’s not sure if she’ll hang up the signed memorabilia in the restaurant, though. Too valuable. She doesn’t want her gifts from Messi to go missing.

At Los Hornos, Isolina and Dario sell their Messi-approved empanadas — a baked turnover stuffed with meat, cheese and other fillings — as well as parrillada (Argentine barbecue) and matambre de cerdo (pork flank steak).

For dessert, Los Hornos offers flan with dulce de leche, chocotorta (chocolate crackers with dulce de leche ice cream), or their Maria Luisa cake — six layers filled with dulce de leche and topped with meringue.

One wall is covered with meal tickets that customers have already paid for, hoping to help the next person in need. A pay-it-forward system.

In addition to serving Messi empanadas, the De La Vegas got to see him play in person for the first time.

“It was very, very exciting,” Isolina said.

So, no. No face-to-face meeting. But awfully close.