A spacious bakery and counter-order cafe, La Mexicana is a home away from home for Mexican expatriates, who eat breakfast or lunch, watch Spanish-language TV, and send money to the folks back home while the kitchen churns out multicolored sweet buns, churros (skinny squiggles of fried dough), and much more. At La Victoria, a small room in the front belies a big kitchen in the back that labors mightily to bring forth gingerbread pigs, pumpkin empanadas, and anything else you might crave with your morning coffee.
The downtown Bowie Bakery has been satisfying El Paso’s sweet tooth for more than three decades with some fifty daily varieties of fresh pan dulce (“sweet bread”). Among the most popular offerings are conchas—spongy, domed buns with chocolate or vanilla toppings—and the little pig-shaped gingerbread cookies called marranitos.
Topping the list of popular panaderías in North Texas is Marquez Bakery and Tortilla Factory, with locations in Arlington and Grand Prairie. At the big, bustling main store in Arlington, with its breakfast-and-lunch dining room, an entire wall of bakery shelves holds a rainbow of Mexican breads and pastries: pan dulce and confetti-sprinkled pink and white cakes; fragrant pig-shaped gingerbread cookies; empanadas filled with pumpkin or pineapple; and polvorones, miniature sugar cookies.
The friendly service at neat-as-a-pin La Victoria Bakery, in east Houston, pulls in gringos for pretty pan dulce and eye candy galore. Giant frosted pastries called cazuelas thrill, and fabulous jam-filled cakes beckon from the extensive display case. Sample the mini-pineapple empanadas or stick around for a hot Mexican breakfast. Glossy, Mexican-international Rustika Café & Bakery specializes in gorgeous, towering cakes, and its pastry case twinkles with fruit tarts, Mexican cookies, and artistic Argentinean treats like dulce de leche puff pastries. Pick a pumpkin empanada, its sturdy, baked cinnamon-and-sugar pastry encasing naturally sweet fruit, or a crispy, nut-packed Mexican wedding cookie.
For the traditional afternoon merienda of coffee and snacks, the best take-out pastries—including what may be the best semitas (leavened, anise-flavored cookies) on the border—are found at Superior Bakery, a storefront furnished only with display cases full of goodies. To sit down and relax with a cup of coffee and a selection of sweets, visit the counter-and-tables La Reynera Bakery & Coffee Shop.
The best, tastiest Mexican pastries in the city are found in Bedoy’s two small, unprepossessing shops. The empanadas have an exceptionally decorative crimped edge; the campechanas—crisp, flat, many-layered pastries—are wonderfully flaky-sweet; and other specialties are equally impressive. But for sheer bedlam and fun, head down to Mi Tierra’s relentlessly festive 24-hour restaurant and bakery in Market Square, take a number (if it’s rush hour), and peruse the sugary possibilities while you wait: crunchy orejas (literally, “ears,” flat and round like Mickey’s), a carnival-bright array of pan dulce (only slightly sweet, like American tea bread), and cookies galore.
See the Directorio for directions to any of these restaurants.