How to Love Champurrado at Las 3 Princesas in Santa Ana

Last month, I did a listicle online predicting the next 10 Mexican-food dishes that Americans would obsess about in 2016. True to form, my No. 2 choice, chilaquiles, already got plugs from Rick Bayless and The New York Times. I didn’t include champurrado, the thick, chocolate-spiked drink that has nourished Mexicans since the time of the Olmecs, because I thought gabachos weren’t ready. But already in this young year, I’ve seen champurrado name-checked in hipster publications, with the crazy Yelp kids and even in corporate OC offices. And not a moment too soon: Nearly every Mexican restaurant cooks pots of it during the winter—and given the onset of El Niño, it’s time for ustedes to learn how to love the rich, nourishing bebida.

A great place to start is Las 3 Princesas, a panadería in SanTana stocked with pan dulces of every provenance. But more than just selling empanadas (on trays demarcated by pictures of the fruit jelly inside), conchas (as small as your palm or as big as a hubcap), and that weird, flaky pastry called orejas that’s a total ripoff of the French palmier, Las 3 Princesas is a rarity in these parts: It’s a Oaxacan bakery. So in addition to pastries and breads, it carries foodstuffs essential for Oaxacan immigrants: milky quesillo, bitter Mexican chocolate, herbs and other specialties from the motherland. The biggest seller is the pan de muerto, offered here year-round instead of just during the traditional Día de los Muertos period. Scented with orange flower water and nearly dripping with granulated sugar, it makes conchas taste as sweet as a storm drain. Even better are the pan de anís (yep: anise-flavored bread) and rolls stuffed with Oaxacan chocolate.

But back to the champurrado. It’s made fresh every morning, but get there early: Once Las 3 Princesas is out, it’s out. If it is, get the cinnamon-flavored cafe de canela instead—or, better yet, come early the next morning and fill a Thermos® with the champurrado, the better to drink throughout the day. Let Las 3 Princesas teach you the champurrado ways—and when you’ve graduated from that course, let’s talk ponche. . . .

Las 3 Princesas, 2736 N. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 542-2131.

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