This Bakery in Texas Feels a Lot Like the Future
La Panadería quickly became a San Antonio staple, and there's no good reason why the same couldn't happen in other American cities.
The first time walking into San Antonio's La Panadería, I couldn't help but notice the custom wooden shelving tucked into the alcove, immediately to the left of the doorway. You have to walk past it before you get to the counter, which always seems to be piled high with pan dulce; in stark contrast, the wooden shelves were completely empty that day—early afternoon on a Saturday, if memory serves.
At the time, I guessed these shelves would be where the bread gets displayed, until it runs out, anyway, but it wasn't until a subsequent visit, when I managed to get there at an earlier hour, that I saw just how beautiful those loaves actually were, which explained—at least in part—just why they sell out so fast. Rustic, camera-ready loaves of all varieties—no wonder snagging one of them requires actually getting out of bed on time.
Of course, you don't have to be up with the sun to fall hard for the La Panadería experience—their overstuffed breakfast sandwiches are served all day, so there's that, but more important still is the fact that they never seem to run out of conchas.
Named after seashells, because they are fashioned to sort of look like them, these classic sweet rolls with a crunchy topping are a staple of most any panadería in Mexico. Deceptively humble but hard to master—often, the concha looks far better than it tastes—you might consider them a terrific litmus test, should you be wondering just what kind of establishment you are dealing with.
Happily, the conchas at La Panadería are extremely good, pillow-soft but with a slight pull and a distinct tang, both hinting at the house affection for an aged sourdough starter. Pair one of these (choose from chocolate or vanilla, they're both very good) with a rich, frothy, sweet-salty Mexican hot chocolate—made by capable baristas—to start your day, to celebrate making it through your day, or whenever you can get here; on the long (and lately, growing longer) list of things you need to eat when you come to San Antonio right now, this terrific pairing definitely belongs.
To see La Panadería for yourself, a trip to Texas is required, at least for the moment—there are just two locations of the bakery, both in San Antonio. The first one launched back in 2014, the realization of a dream shared by brothers José and David Cáceres, who hail from Mexico City. They are, they will tell you, on a mission to show America what bread was like back south of the border, before, as they put it, industrialization took its toll on Mexico's baking traditions.
The brothers Cáceres certainly have the pedigree to make a go of this—baking runs in the family, as does considerable commercial success. Their mother went from baking for their neighborhood, when José and David were growing up, to supplying major companies across the country, including Starbucks.
The baking alone (utilizing the long fermentation method) at La Panadería ought to make them very successful, and it has, at least locally. The first store, which has the feel of a sort of stripped down, Panera-like fast-casual concept, with its lunch combos and counter service, has been and remains a hit, but with the second location, opened on a prominent corner in San Antonio's tourist-friendly downtown, the Cáceres brothers have demonstrated even more ambition, hiring design firm Clayton & Little—the very same responsible for Austin's exclusive Hotel St. Cecilia—to create an even more modern, almost seductive environment. What the third store will look like—there's been chatter, unconfirmed, that this will happen—is anybody's guess. Expanding to other cities has been discussed, as well.
For now, if you should happen to find yourself in San Antonio, you ought to stop by at least once; besides the fact that you could happily eat three meals a day here (the rather hefty sandwiches in particular are superb, but there are soups and salads, too), the great appeal of a visit to La Panadería is the way it effortlessly pulls together the traditional and the modern, in an environment that appeals to anyone who walks in, no matter who they are, where they've come from, or what pastry traditions they've grown up with.
In a nod to the panadería way, you still grab a tray and some tongs and collect your own pastry, but here, the selection is highly curated, and rather unique, skating around the pastry map, doing what it wants, when it wants. Just as good as the conchas are the croissants; if you are lucky, you will find yourself here when they have their almond croissant, here zipped up with the addition of tequila flavoring. (It's one of their top sellers.) There are sometimes kolaches, that Czech-Texan staple, a so-fashionable-right-now kouign amann, generous wedges of flan topped with crushed pecans, and then there are those sandwiches—start with the very good torta milanesa, and work your way down the menu from there. Assuming, of course, you're ever able to get past those conchas. Did I mention that they are very good?