Take the kids on a visit to a Houston panaderia, where sweet and savory breads dazzle the taste buds and busy bakers captivate young minds.
… stuffed with raisins
… with a flakey, buttery shell
… sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar
Is your mouth watering yet?
Until recently, I’d been inside a panaderia – a Hispanic bakery – just once, and for only about two minutes. That first time I was so overwhelmed with the variety of breads, cookies, pastries and empanadas – referred to as pan dolce, or “sweet breads” in English – that I bolted, promising myself I’d come back.
If you’ve never visited a panaderia, you’re in for a treat. Most panaderias in Houston are Mexican or Guatemalan, and each puts its own twist on classic Latin American pastries. While many have large windows into the kitchen showcasing the bakers in action, each business has a lavish display of fanciful pastries ready to go into a string-tied box and home with you.
Make a family outing of it. Young eaters will enjoy seeing the hands-on action of the bakers while selecting one or two pastries to taste at home. Mom and dad will find that these baked gems go with one of their favorite adult drinks: coffee. (I found myself dipping nearly all of my selections in my morning cup of joe.) They make for a very pretty breakfast or dessert display for a holiday or special occasion, but you’ll want to buy them (and eat them) while they’re very fresh.
Many panaderias are self-serve, and here’s how these typically work:
When you arrive, grab a large, metal pizza pan or tray from the stack near the entrance. Generally you’ll see bakers’ racks lined up with the freshest selections right out of the oven. Among the many, look for conchas (bright pink, yellow and white sugar-topped shells that you’ve probably seen at the grocery store), puerquitos (little pig-shaped raisin cookies, sometimes called marranitos or cochinitos), churros with their cinnamon and sugar coating and signature ribbed texture, and both sweet and savory empanadas.
Using the tongs on the bakers’ racks and in the showcase bins, load up your tray, and when you’ve assembled what looks most interesting (or mysterious) head to the cash register. I couldn’t always decipher what the written descriptions of the pastries meant, but the cashier had no problem identifying them and explaining to me what they were while she wrapped them up.
Total price for a dozen postres? Around $15, depending on what you select.
Here are six Houston panaderias worth seeking out; an asterisk denotes that they also serve breakfast and/or lunch.
La Victoria Bakery*
12788 Veterans Memorial
La Guadalapuna Bakery & Cafe*
Taqueria y Panaderia Del Sol*
8114 Park Place Blvd.