Ay caramba!

Jovanni Cardenas exudes satisfaction while gobbling down his <i>polborone</i>, a crunchy but soft cookie.

Jovanni Cardenas exudes satisfaction while gobbling down his polborone, a crunchy but soft cookie.

Photo By David Robert

It was dusk when my brother, Cameron, and I walked up to El Pueblo Bakery. There were about a dozen kids running around outside, clutching baked goodies so enticing I wanted to rob them, but I knew we were heading straight for the source. When we stepped inside, I was struck by three things: First, a bread-rising odor so fresh and powerful that it picked me up by my nostrils and dragged my attention towards the back of the little bakery where somebody was taking something delicious out of the oven; second, the surprisingly lengthy, disorderly line of families clamoring for pan dulce; and third, the darkness—there were no lights on.

But just then, as though reading my mind, somebody turned the lights on. A dazzling display case suddenly appeared before me, filled to capacity with Mexican sweet breads and pastries. There were all sorts of shapes and sizes, some looking plain but good, others covered in bright pink frosting or sugar. Some of the treats looked like candy, others like cake, some like fresh bread, others like doughnuts—though I had the feeling I could eat a half dozen of these delectables without getting a horrendous bellyache.

The girl behind the counter smiled and told us to just point out whatever we’d like. I asked her if we could have a minute because I was overwhelmed. It was difficult because nothing was labeled—though this did provide me with ample opportunity to ask her questions. She was happy to describe how the treats were made—and she told us all the names in English and en español. She also told us the good news that my keen nose had deduced: Everything at El Pueblo Bakery is made fresh daily.

The treats were large enough that my brother and I just needed to split a few to satiate our cravings. We got un puerquito, “a little pig,” so named for its vaguely porcine shape. It’s made with apple and ginger, has chocolate frosting and tastes like fresh gingerbread. We also had the standby churro, the crunchy, layered cinnamon and sugar treat. This churro was differently shaped than others I’ve had and has a more substantial texture and subtler flavors. We also had a strawberry vela, “candle,” a round, pink strawberry and coconut cake with a custard filling that comes out of the top like a tip of flame.

One of the many pleasant surprises of our visit to El Pueblo Bakery came when it was time for us to settle the bill. The grand total for all three of our very large and very fresh treats: a whopping $1.80. So for just a few cents more than what you might pay at a vending machine, you get some sweets that are a hell of a lot fresher, tastier and just plain better.

There was no seating available inside the bakery. It isn’t really aimed at sit-down diners—or interior decorating for that matter. There’s a coffee pot and a cooler with a few soft drinks, but other than that, the focus comes down to that display case of pan dulce.

The whole point is that you show up, pick out treats to your heart’s desire and then leave. My brother and I drove to a nearby park, blasting The Geto Boys on my brother’s bumping system, anxious to devour the sort of sweet, wholesome nourishment that only a friendly neighborhood bakery can provide.