First off, a big gracias to you, gentle readers. I got a nice e-mail from the owners of Wadiya in Anaheim, the county’s first Sri Lankan restaurant. They let me know that they’re busier than ever thanks to my review of their wonderful restaurant a couple of weeks ago.
Now, another gem: La Poblana Bakery. It’s been around for years on the outskirts of Old Towne Orange, where the charming neighborhood turns into the barrios recently targeted with a gang injunction by the Orange County district attorney’s office. Nevertheless, people of all ethnicities line up starting at 5:30 in the madrugada for fresh-baked pan dulce: powdery conchas; soft-as-marshmallows-inside, crispy-on-the-outside bolillos; massive empanadas filled with pineapple, apple, cream or pumpkin, each baked with a unique casing that can range from flaky to buttery to spiked with cinnamon (à la gingerbread). La Poblana also makes small cookies aptly named polvones: They’re so dense that the moment you take a bite, they crumble into dust. Order the cinnamon ones.
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If it’s a chilly day, patrons also ask for champurrado. It’s not my favorite Mexican hot beverage (growing up on cinnamon tea and Mexican hot chocolate will forever make you biased), but this chocolate gruel can warm you better than a Burberry coat: thick as raw milk, but sweet (be careful while sipping, though—its fatty content can easily scald). The champurrado goes great with La Poblana’s famous tamales: gooey cheese ones inside warm masa; strawberry tamales tinted pink and chock-full of fruit; or the more-traditional pork, beef, or chicken. You can order a couple, but tamales were meant to be ordered by the dozen and distributed to co-workers; do so, and you might stave off layoffs.
Unlike most panaderías, La Poblana also offers a limited menu of entrées. Menudo is on the stove every day, fiery bowls of innards and hominy. But the foodstuff to take for lunch is the pambazo. It’s not a faithful re-creation of this Mexico City torta favorite; the salsa that cooks are supposed to soak the bolillo in before placing it on the griddle is instead spread inside, and the ham has little flavor—none of which matters once you start eating. Inside the pambazo are the best refried beans in Orange County, a spread as condensed as hummus but sweeter, with the earthiness unique to pinto beans. Adding freshness is shredded lettuce; some sweetness, crumbles of queso fresco. And that renegade salsa slowly works through your palate to engulf it with a fiery kick few non-habanero salsas in Orange County possess. Mmm . . . sneaky salsa.
La Poblana Bakery, 604 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 771-4465.