El Sombrero Plaza Dulceria

Photo by Tenaya HillsMy gabacho friends deride Mexican candy as little more than bizarre fruits coated with chile powder. But I take no offense—hell, I nod in agreement. Combining sugar with spice is hard-wired into the Mexican soul, dating back at least to the Aztec nobles who spiked their chilled chocolate beverages with Popocatepetl-violent peppers and a jigger of human blood. And though Cortés vanquished the People of the Sun centuries ago, their taste for sweet and searing—minus the sanguinary chaser, naturally—lives on in El Sombrero Plaza Dulcería. It's a Mexican candy store on the outskirts of Fullerton's rough Tokers Town barrio, the hellish equivalent of Willy Wonka's wonderland, an expansive, adobe-style building—it looks like the manse of a Gabriel García-Marquez protagonist. You'll find chile-centric candy in dozens of improbable combinations. There's Lucas, mango powder sifted together with salt and chile; Latino kiddies lick the stuff off their hands with the same fervor that an aardvark displays around an anthill. There are tamarind pits in a chile-inflected syrup—a pulpy, fruity burning coal. The smell of pumpkin seeds roasted in lime juice and chile penetrates their plastic bags and wafts through the aisles. One shelf specializes in spoons smeared with various chile pastes. Light a match at El Sombrero, and the explosion would likely singe La Habra.

But Mexican candy isn't solely about brimstone. As if to compensate for excessive fieriness, El Sombrero also offers sweets so rich that a single nibble per hour is the recommended consumption rate. Twentysomething Chicanos will weep upon encountering Tomy butterscotch suckers; the candy's teddy bear wrapper is an instant reminder of childhood bolos (party favors). The boiled goat's-milk caramel known as cajeta comes in tan slabs; like fudge, El Sombrero's cajeta melts from its original malleable state to spread creamy, fragrant warmth. Neon-tinted alfajor de coco (fried, compressed coconut shavings) contain enough sugar to burn a hole through your pancreas.

The dulcería also does a brisk party-supply business, and the regular squeal of helium into balloons provides an endless soundtrack. If you're not a midget, you'll probably peruse the shelves with shoulders hunched: piñatas hang low from the ceiling—the traditional star-shaped ones in the front, an animation-character galaxy with no respect for cartoon cosmologies in the back room. If you see Nemo brawling with the Incredible Hulk while the cast of Rugrats bawls, stop: you've inhaled too much pure chile or sugar. Balance your senses with a mango/chile wowipop.

El Sombrero Plaza Dulcería, 415 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 992-5441.

Wanna dine? E-Mail Gustavo at ga*******@oc******.com“>ga*******@oc******.com. For the best damn dining recommendations in Orange County (more than 500 restaurants!), visit our online dining guide at www.ocweekly.com/food.

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