Note: Krissy is a Plaza Midwood resident, bike enthusiast, and baked good addict.
If you’ve never been to a panadería (Spanish for “bakery”), you’re missing out.
Panaderías, many of which are clustered in East Charlotte and along North Tryon and South Boulevard, offer a wide variety of cheap, tasty treats – most of which are just $1 each. Panaderías are usually self-serve. Grab some tongs, pluck some goodies from the cases, bring your pile of carbs to the register, and walk out just a few bucks poorer. (Cash only, please.)
Part of the fun of a panadería is trying new things. there are so many varieties of pan dulces (literally “sweet bread”) that you never quite know what you’re going to get. The upside is, at $1 a pop, the flavor-to-price odds are stacked in your favor.
We visited five popular east-side bakeries, sampling two classics from each (a concha and a marranito) to provide you a quick guide.
In all, we sampled about 20 treats. Total cost, about $22. Total leftovers, a lot.
- Manolo’s Bakery (formerly known as Las Delicias), 4405 Central Avenue
- Panadería La Espiga, 6445 Albemarle Road
- Panadería Odalys, 4404 East Independence Boulevard
- Panadería Quetzal, 925 Eastway Drive
- Supermercadito El Salvador, 4729 Central Avenue
What did we taste test?
- Concha: Spanish for “shell,” conchas are quintessential to any panadería. The round, bready buns are similar to a brioche bun, but topped with a streusel crust that resembles a seashell and is often brightly colored.
- Marranitos: Also referred to as cerditos, cochinitos, or puerquitos, these oh-so-cute Mexican cookies are shaped like pigs. The texture is a cross between a cookie and bread – softly breakable but not crumbly, and just the right amount of chewy. They are slightly sweetened with molasses, honey, or dark brown sugar, spiced with ginger or cinnamon, and sometimes brushed with egg or milk for a slight sheen on top.
Winner: Panadería Odalys
Panadería Odalys had the softest, freshest, most beautiful concha of the three we tried. Additionally, this panadería had an amazingly soft marranitos which had almost a graham-like flavor.
Other top picks
Manolo’s: Do not sleep on the churros. They are sugary sticks of dense, fried goodness with a fruit filling that puts them over the top.
La Espiga: The store’s most popular item, el ojo (“eye”), is a two-fer: A flaky, pastry shell wrapped around a sort of cupcake. Together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Odalys: Sadly, the most popular item, tacos de queso (pastry tacos made with cream cheese), was not available because the machine that makes them is broken. Note to self: must come back to try this.
El Quetzal: A Guatemalan panadería, the selection of goods here was quite different from the others we tried – many items were more bready than sweet. An interesting find was the champurrada, a thin sesame cookie that was satisfyingly crunchy.
El Salvador: While this mini mart had only a small bakery section, there was a decent variety to choose from, and friendly staff. Most intriguing was the quesadilla, which – similar to its savory namesake – was a dense, folded pastry with a corn-based dough and a sweet filling. There was also a huarache (“sandal”), an oblong, puffy pastry that was exceptionally crispy and crunchy.
In the interest of full disclosure, we also tried some pastries that weren’t so great.
Many are made to be dunked in coffee, and are unremarkable by themselves. At $1 each, we’re not complaining, but one of our new rules is: the more colorful the pastry, the less tasty.
We hope you’re inspired to visit one of Charlotte’s many panaderías. Just maybe don’t visit 5 in one day like we did, 🙂