For the past couple of months, I've survived almost entirely on pastries.
There is a distinct line on my fingernails indicating my change in diet, and though my health worries me occasionally, for the most part, I'm fascinated by the prospect of living the rest of my life on sweet, buttery breads.
When it's time to eat, and I crave a croissant, a cinnamon twist or a cookie, Cerrillos Road is not the first place I think to go. However, now that I've tried the treats at Panadería Zaragoza (3277 Cerrillos Road, 471-9383), I'm determined to make the trek more often.
A stand-alone building near Walmart, Zaragoza opened six years ago under the management of Arturo Vega and his wife, Ramona. The Vegas and their bakers make their sweet breads in a kitchen separate, but open to, the shop itself.
A large display case lines the right wall from floor to ceiling and is filled with the most overwhelming and delicious assortment of pan dulce.
This is my first time in a Mexican panadería and, as I stand and gawk at the options, I take a lesson from other customers as they collect their breads. Each grabs a cafeteria tray and a pair of tongs. With the tongs, the customer selects various pastries, puts them on the tray and takes them to the counter, where Ramona counts the sweet selections.
By the time I'm through, my tray is covered in sugary shapes.
The rebenada de mantequilla, or "butter slice," is baked in the shape of a log-like sheet. Each slice is as light and soft as angel cake, and frosted on one side with a layer of sugar-sprinkled butter. Its taste is delicate and not too sweet. The cuernito de canela, or cinnamon croissant, is dense with butter and flour—and the thick layer of sugar crystals that covers the dough sparkles like snow. In taste, it reminds me of a Christmas cookie, but it flakes more like a pastry. Galletita de grajea, a large sugar cookie that's covered in small rainbow sprinkles and tastes slightly of orange, sits beside the croissant and below solid, pink cookies that look like they belong in a little girl's dream world.
There's the concha, a soft seashell-shaped pastry that tastes like coffee cake; oreja, puff pastry that's twisted, glazed and shaped like an elephant ear; and churros. The churro is the best I've ever had—soft, cream-filled, sugarcoated, chewy and moist.
The empanada de crema, with just the slightest hint of lemon, is to die for. But if you prefer a fruit filling, try the apricot, apple or pineapple. And if, like me, your pastry habit keeps you vegetable-deprived, there's pumpkin and sweet potato empanadas; tacos (four for $6.50 and accompanied by a side of rice and beans) and hearty burritos ($4).
The durazno, or peach, is a pink, ball-shaped cookie covered in coconut and filled, not with peach, but with a layer of coconut and strawberry.
Every pastry—no matter the color or the size, no matter that it's fluffy and light or dense and filled with cream or fruit—costs 80 cents. It's worth trying all of them.
I ask Ramona what the best pastry is. "That's a hard one," she says in Spanish. "Everything is good." But she leads me and my translator, SFR A&C Editor Enrique Limón, to the display case and points at what looks like a muffin—one that, until now, I've entirely overlooked. It's the "keki," she tells me. I add one to my tray.
Later, I try the nut-filled cupcake, and it's true: Though the concha, the cuernito and the galletita are dazzling in their sugary beauty, the humble keki cupcake is simple and perfect—the nuts, rather than the sugar, make it sweet.
When he tries it, Enrique says it best: "Oh my God! There's just something familiar about having that taste of sweet nut in your mouth—nothing's quite like it."
At a Glance
Serving: über sweet morsels and more
Menu: pan dulce, tacos and burritos daily; menudo and barbacoa on the weekends
Best bet: the keki