¡Pasar el café! Nostalgia sparks new twists on pan dulce classics in L.A.

With apologies to the New York Times, bakeries aren't exactly a new thing in LA. Pan dulce has been quietly flourishing here for decades. Conchas, quesadillas, and orejas may be unfamiliar to many, but they're treasured in LA's Latino communities. Audrey Ngo reports.

Photo courtesy of La Monarca.


Pan dulce, or sweet bread, has been a staple for decades among working-class Hispanics and Latinos, a group that makes up nearly half of L.A. County.  

Conchas, a fluffy, streusel-topped sweet bread, or quesadilla, a sweet, cheesy treat, are just a couple panaderia best-sellers to go with your coffee or hot chocolate.

And pan dulce can also evoke a strong sense of nostalgia.

Take Roxanne Sanchez, who helps run her family’s Highland Park panaderia, Delicias Bakery & Some.

A vegan, Sanchez said her family wanted to sell sweet bread she could enjoy, making Delicias the first bakery to regularly offer vegan pan dulce in L.A.

“Cause I missed it, they wanted to help me go back into my childhood and remember all the bread I used to eat,” Sanchez said.

And that taste doesn’t always have to be 100 percent authentic to pan dulce’s native countries.

Food journalist Karla Vasquez says L.A.-made quesadilla tastes slightly different than what you’ll find in El Salvador. That’s because a key ingredient, queso duro blando, is an imported cheese. Cost-efficient substitutes like parmesan are used to get a similar flavor, keeping quesadilla affordable.

“It’s still fulfilling something for the Salvadoran people and the…working class,” Vasquez said.

That sweet fulfillment is gaining notoriety.

L.A. Taco Associate Editor Javier Cabral has noticed growing interest in sweet bread culture, with a Concha Con downtown earlier this summer, and trending pan dulce memes.

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“[The bread] you grew up eating, that no one really knew about except your family and close friends, is becoming mainstream,” Cabral said.

To join the craze, here are five panaderias for people craving classic flavors and new spins on pan dulce greatest hits.

La Monarca Bakery

The exterior of La Monarca Bakery’s first location in Huntington Park. Photo courtesy of Audrey Ngo for KCRW’s Good Food.

Now with 12 SoCal locations, La Monarca is known for made-from-scratch pan dulce with new concha flavors like wedding cookie and cinnamon. For those who prefer a richer sweet bread, try their puff pastry filled with dulce de leche, a sweet milk and caramel paste. Bonus: La Monarca products are preservative-free.

Delicias Bakery & Some

The exterior of Delicias Bakery & Some in Highland Park. Photo courtesy of Audrey Ngo for KCRW’s Good Food.

For hot and fresh pan dulce made without animal products, Delicias’ vegan menu includes churro conchas and cuernitos de azucar, a croissant-shaped bread made with rainforest alliance certified sugar. In case you’re wondering, the taste is close to non-vegan pan dulce, but with a lighter texture. And there’s still plenty of traditional pan dulce made on-site daily. But Delicias is constantly working on new vegan interpretations of old favorites. For the latest, check out their Instagram, preferably not on an empty stomach.

Panaderia Cuscatleca

Photo courtesy of Panaderia Cuscatleca, a Salvadoran bakery on Pico Blvd. in Downtown L.A.

With locations on Pico Blvd. and Sunset, Cuscatleca has hot and fresh Salvadoran favorites like cemitas, a layered pineapple jam-filled bread, quesadilla Salvadoreña and salpores de almidon, which translates to porous starch, all meant to dip in hot chocolate or coffee. Cuscatleca also has vegan options for conchas and chocolate chip cookies, just to name a few.

Porto’s Bakery & Cafe

The entrance to Porto’s Bakery & Cafe at its location on Downey Ave. Photo courtesy of Audrey Ngo for KCRW’s Good Food.

This family-owned Cuban bakery chain is famous for its cakes and pan dulce. For a fruity kick, try one of Porto’s guava confections, like their trademarked refugiado, a guava and cheese puff pastry, or masareal, a cinnamon and honey bread square with guava jam filling.

La Favorita Bakery

A photo of conchas, or shells, a popular Mexican sweet bread. Photo courtesy of Audrey Ngo for KCRW’s Good Food.

If you’re into a smaller version of popular pan dulce, La Favorita is known for its mini-conchas. But there are full-sized conchas too, along with butter croissants, cochinitos (pig-shaped cookies) and cuernos de cajeta (caramel-filled horns). This panaderia bakes its bread fresh throughout the day, with family recipes dating back three generations in Mexico City.

This post made possible with help from KCRW’s Independent Producer Project.