San Diego's got pañerìa fever-the traditional Mexican pastry shops are everywhere these days. My favorite, Panchita's Bakery, has managed to spread itself to three locations in San Diego, but the Panchita's I like most is the one in the old-school strip mall in Golden Hill. Just like the tiny flower shop down the street, the tamale guy on the corner and the makeshift vegetable stand in the parking lot in front of the Laundromat around the way, Panchita's adds an air of authenticity to the hipster-infused 'hood. With rows of beautiful puffy pastries and fresh, soft bread lined up inside, Panchita's (2519 C St., 619-232-6662) displays San Diego's real Mexican side, and it does so with loads of pride (and sugar).
If you're a gringo, and you've never had the pleasure of sinking your teeth into a Mexican pastry, I suggest starting with the empanada. Basically, it's a piecrust folded over and stuffed with yummy goodness-anything from strawberry jelly to cream (or cod fish and chicken, if you're further south). They're rich and overwhelmingly filling, so take your time and take care in choosing the flavor. I recently took my friend for an empanada-eating experience at Panchita's. He picked guava, I picked mango and we chose one odd-looking empanada without a label.
'Wow, this is getting everywhere,' says friend as he breaks the soft shell and bright red guava jelly squirts out. 'Delicious.'
I took a bite of my empanada, then we switched.
'You got mango all over my face,' complains friend. 'I think I like mine better.'
'Yours is better,' I agree.
'Yours tastes like a candle,' says smart-ass friend as I smash my face into his empanada.
'You have reckless abandon for your face,' says friend. 'But that's how you gotta eat these things; you just gotta go for it.'
We grabbed the mystery empanada.
'I bet it's apricot,' says friend.
'I bet it's pumpkin,' I say, eyeballing the Panchita's Day of the Dead bread in our bag.
'It is pumpkin,' says friend. 'It's good. It taste like pumpkin crust.'
'Pumpkin doesn't have crust,' I say.
'It tastes like pumpkin-pie crust,' says friend, 'like that bit of pumpkin left over on the crust.' --Kinsee Morlan