It's officially that joyous time of year for succumbing to the pressures of awkward holiday potlucks at work, finding the perfect gift for Boo and those comfortable stretchy-pants calling from your closet. 'Tis the season to hit your vices hard, abandon dietary restraint and simply devour whatever it takes to soothe.
Vivian hernandez-Jackson has just the fix to boost your holiday cheer at Azucar (4820 Newport Ave.), Ocean Beach's sweet spot featuring the flavors she grew up with in Miami. Spanish for “sugar,” Azucar's a tribute to her Cuban heritage and classic French pastry training from Le Cordon Bleu in London.
Sound fancy? I'm here to report not one raised-pinky sighting; true to its O.B. locale, the shop is casual and lively, packed each morning with locals fueling up on coffee drinks and fresh-baked goods. The Café con Leche ($2.75) is my liquid pick, with strong and smoky Old Havana-roast espresso, sweetened as it's brewed and combined with steamed milk for a drink that'll prepare you for mall madness—or reinvigorate after a night of too much eggnog.
Among funky, seasonal confections, like the best-selling Pumpkin Flan topped with pumpkin-seed brittle ($6), are munchies galore that make perfect party favors. The variety of goodies all share hernandez-Jackson's distinctive, complex flavor-texture combinations that are anything but the one-dimensional sugary experiences some bakeries evoke.
I can't get enough of the gingerbread chocolate-chunk cookies ($1.25). A crisp outer layer dusted in white sugar surprisingly reveals a chewy, moist, spicy ginger cookie center with chunks of chocolate that, when baked, crackle throughout the treat like fault lines.
But my favorite of all—whose miniscule price is but a bonus—are the chocolate sea-salt caramels for just 50 cents each. Pillowy soft, chewy squares are chocolately at first, followed by burnt-sugar notes; coarse salt-pebbles sprinkled atop each throws off the super-sweet chews with a bright burst that accentuates all the flavors. I like to get a bag of 'em to go, as they've replaced chewing gum in my grubby purse.
Ocean Beach provides shelter from normalcy, and this time of year, that means the holiday hustle. Slow down and take a break from it all at Azucar, where sugary solace awaits.