Many CliffDwellers bemoan the fact that there are no European-style bakeries in the area. And the baked goods at local grocery stores are uninspiring. The thought goes that if we want something really yummy to go with the morning cup ’a joe that does not involve a many-miles-long drive, we have to settle for something prepackaged.
But those attitudes overlook the glaring presence of commercial ovens cranking out delectable delights right here in our multi-ethnic paradise just south of the Trinity. It should be no secret: the Mexican bakeries in our slice of the city crank out some of the best pastries and cakes I have ever tasted, at amazingly low prices. They can provide breakfast or mid-afternoon treats for four adults for roughly $5. In fact, I have been able to buy items at these neighborhood bake-shops that are identical to those I find at Central Market or Whole Foods or Eatzi’s, sometimes for a quarter of the price — and much fresher to boot.
And the made-to-order cakes from the panaderias rival those I have had at any fancy-schmancy joint in ritzier
parts of The Big D.
So let’s pay a visit to three of these local sugary gems: Grab your forks, open your sweet-tooth-filled mouths, and make sure your dental insurance is in order!
932 W Davis St (between Polk & Tyler)
Mon-Sat 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m.,
Sun 6:30 a.m.- 4 p.m.
Vera’s is my holiest-of-holies. Always busy on Saturday mornings, Vera’s teems with families, wonderful smells, and phenomenal sweets at blowout prices. In fact, the prices are so low that I have made it a habit of taking my out-of-town guests visiting from high-cost-of living cities to Vera’s for breakfast on their first morning in Dallas. I almost always get to enjoy their dumbfounded retorts that the cost of a bag of pastries in Dallas is roughly equal to the cost of a single pastry wherever they came from. I cannot help but gleefully chuckle every time I pile my tray high with 34¢ muffins, 50¢ campechanas, and 75¢ apple turnovers. Ah, why pay East Coast prices if you don’t have to? This is why I live — and shop — in Oak Cliff.
The selection at Vera’s is as extensive as the prices are low. As with all three of the bakeries in this article, standard operating procedure is to grab a plastic tray and a pair of tongs on your way in the door, seize whatever catches your eye, and pay at the counter (don’t forget to leave the tongs on the tray — the clerk will use them to place your pastries in a bag). In addition to single-serving sweets, Vera’s has binders sitting on the counter bursting with pictures of cakes the staff would be happy to make for you. I once ordered a tres leches cake from Vera’s for $30 (large enough to generously serve 20) and it was so mind-blowingly good that the health-food fanatic in my family could not stop himself from ingesting three generous helpings of the tempting confection. Now that was some high praise.
Tia Dora’s Bakery
725 S Cockrell Hill Rd
(corner of Jefferson & Cockrell Hill)
Mon-Fri 7 a.m.-8 p.m.,
Sat 6 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun 7 a.m.-2 p.m.
On a recent trip to Lowe’s, I hit Tia Dora’s at what was apparently prime time: 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday. The bakery was doing such a brisk business that I had to park in the back by the dumpster. But no matter — as soon as I opened my car door, I could smell the enticing aroma of freshly baked bread. As I followed the scent into the large storefront, I marveled at how the glorious sunshine brightened the bakery up through the east-facing windows. It made the otherwise simple and plain facility bright and cheery.
Two cash registers operated by clerks wearing matching aprons steadily rang up orders. I was impressed by the selection. Cabinets with sliding glass doors lined the walls on either side and there was a roll-away cart planted in the middle of the floor boasting even more tempting delights. In addition to the basic bolillos, brightly-colored puffy sugar cookies, and elephant ear biscuits, some of the choices available at Tia Dora’s were exotic creations I have not come across at any of the other bakeries, such as guava turnovers and glazed pineapple rings sitting on flaky crusts. I bought samples of just about everything and all of it was fantastic. They even tasted good the next day. I will go back. Often.
Panaderia Balderas #1
316 W Jefferson Blvd
(between Madison & Bishop)
Mon-Sun 6 a.m.- 9 p.m.
I got to Balderas # 1 at 6:30 a.m. on a recent Tuesday morning. The door was locked. Bummer! I had my heart set on some warm turnovers to go with my coffee. But then I knocked on the glass door and the baker working in the back unlocked the door and welcomed me in. The store smelled divine! The baker proceeded to lead me past the counter and requested that I simply take what I wanted from the stacked-up, ready-to-go racks of freshly-made pastries just a few feet from the oven where they were born. By the time I had finished making my selections, the clerk had breathlessly rushed through the front door, apologized profusely, and promptly put my still-warm purchases in a brown paper bag while gingerly accepting my cash. I was all set to go . . . I was so eager that I almost walked into a policeman coming in to get some goodies himself. And once home, the apple empanada, pineapple empanada, puffy sugar cookie, hot-dog-in-pastry-dough, and cheese danishes were sublimely and appreciatively devoured by the entire family.
Balderas is an easy place to get to and just a few blocks from the Bishop Arts District. The space is nondescript and on the small side but the store is clean and offers a limited selection of chilled sodas and hot coffee. And on days that my wife pays a visit to Balderas for her pan dulce fix, the woman behind the counter always tries to engage my recalcitrant 3-year-old in conversation (sometimes more successfully than others).
While it may cause consternation for some CliffDwellers that a fresh baguette cannot be had without a trip across the bridge, there nevertheless are options in our own backyard. The three bakeries mentioned above all offer delicate, delicious, and affordable pastries just a short distance away and there are others in the area that you may also want to try. Go ahead. Satisfy your curiosity and indulge in sinful deliciousness. After all, who wants to spend Saturday morning speeding down the highway in the relentless search of sugary treats? We have some good ones for sale right here in our neighborhood.