If you’ve never done this, stepped into one of the various panaderias or Mexican bakeries in the Mission, go! Its fun… you grab a tray, a pair of tongs and you walk around the shop picking from trays of freshly baked Mexican pastries know as Pan Dulce (translates as “sweet bread” but is really a food group all its own). Some resemble turtles or snails, others are less elaborate in shape but each has its own name and recipe. Don’t even think about the price, they are all really cheap, from $.75 to maybe $2.50, if that much; so select any and all that tempt you and then you bring your tray to the cashier, just like they do in the bakeries in Mexico. Looking for something other than a sweet roll to go with your coffee? In the Mission, you’ll find Mexican bread pudding, freshly baked bread rolls and delicious Tres Leches cake. Having said that, not all the panaderias are equal. Here’s a guide to where and what:
- Best Pan Dulce– La Mexicana on 24th just off the corner of York. Don’t forget to get your cup of cafe con canela, traditional Mexican-style coffee brewed with Mexican cinnamon. At Tres Señoritas Gourmet Catering, we prepare ours the traditional way in a clay pot or “a la olla“, which imparts a subtle but perceptible flavor. To start your day the way they do in Mexico, buy a claypot just down the street from La Mexicana, at La Palma for under $30. Don’t forget to cure your pot first, by bringing milk to boil in it for about 5-10 minutes, before use. You can also rub the bottom with garlic cloves (alternate curing mthod, or you can do both. What you are trying to accomplish is to seal the naturally poreus clay). Stock up with a pile of pastries and enjoy you cafe al la olla con canela, be sure to use whole cinnamon sticks, available for just a couple of dollars a bag at any of the Mexican grocers along 24th St… delicious!
- Runner-up- La Victoria on 24th at the corner of Alabama, where they have been “making pan dulce the original way for over 60 years. Just the way grandfather and great-grandfather Maldonado had been doing before little Jr. opened La Victoria. Real milk, whole eggs, and fresh starter. [They] don’t do frozen, [or] powdered milk, and every batch has a unique recipe”. They also sell tamales, empanadas from El Porteño, some vegan bakery items from Wholesome Bakery (like delicious carrot cake), but their prices are significantly higher (the “Gringo factor”- they get a steady stream of American customers), one way to get to know Pan Dulce is to follow the recommendation of owner Jamie Maldonado “… to first timers… try them all! Buy the one of each discount coupon and try something new every day.” One interesting note, La Victoria gives cooking classes, mostly geared at parent-child baking projects, check out their website for descriptions and schedule.
- Best Capirotada– Mexican bread pudding at El Mejor Panaderia on 24th between Mission and Bartlett, take it home, heat it up and top with berries and whipped crea, Follow link here for more on capirotada, a traditional Lenten dish in Mexico, including a recipe from the kitchen of Tres Señoritas Gourmet Mexican Catering.
- Best bollios- Mexican bread rolls at King Bakery on Mission between 24th and 25th, where you can get these hot out of the oven several times a day (funny, because the owners seem to be Chinese!). At $.25 ea. Buy at least a couple of dozen, they are addictive! Use them to make mini versions of your favorite sandwiches or just serve with dinner.
- Best Tres Leches cake – at Dianda’s also on Mission between 24th and 25th, on the opposite side of the street from King Bakery. Don’t be fooled by the sign proudly proclaiming that this is an Italian-American bakery… this light sponge cake, typically served at any Mexican fiesta, is soaked with a mixture of three kinds of milk after its baked: evaporated, condensed and heavy cream. At Dianda’s they make the best in SF (although it still doesn’t compare with what they make in Mexico, if you serve this to your Mexican friends, expect comments to this affect). Tres Leches is available in flavors: pineapple, strawberry, banana and peach. Their prices are quite reasonable and the cake is also available by the slice. (Note- Dianda’s is popular and so are their Tres Leches cakes, there can be quite a line and it is recommended that you order your cake in advance, they sell out on weekends, especially).
- Runner-up for Tres Leches is Pat & Joe’s, a new Italian-American bakery on the corner of 21st and Folsom. Not quite as moist, its still very good, and they also offer cake by the slice, and wedding cakes as well.