Want a huarache? Mexican pan dulce? A chocolate mousse? A few pounds of tamale masa? It's all at La Morenita, a newly re-opened Mexican bakery, restaurant and market in Cypress Park. The neighborhood, which is heavily Latino, is delighted to get the place back. And so are shoppers who make long treks to get some of the best Mexican baked goods available in the Los Angeles area. Owners Pepe Pena and his sons, Cesar and Alex, leased out the bakery for a few years, then took it back, remodeled extensively and reopened in July. On August 15, La Morenita celebrates its 20th anniversary.
The small, crowded shop has expanded into a large, brightly decorated space with an open kitchen and bakery and lots of good Mexican food to eat there or take out, including Pepe Pena's signature chile verde. The tables and chairs where you'll sit were made to order in Tonala, Jalisco. Brick trim around the walls recaptures the feel of the brick ovens used to bake bread in Mexico.
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The breads are glorious. Look for puffy, caramelized huaraches, glazed hollow libros (books), round rings of cornmeal bread typical of Sinaloa, breads made of one dough wrapped in another, buns dotted with piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar), traditional conchas, sugary flat tostadas and many more.
You'll also find breads that have fallen out of use, such as pan de manteca, a ring bread that requires special skill to shape. Manteca means lard, but La Morenita has updated that to vegetable shortening. There are also European-style cakes, mousses, fruit tarts and Napoleons, only here those are called mil hojas. The kids will gravitate toward payasos (clowns), cupcakes topped with a clown and cloaked with frosting. And the masa is the real thing: it's not made from commercial masa flour, but from dried New Mexican corn cooked and ground at La Morenita.
Why would you order a hamburger for lunch here instead of a taco, torta, or tamale? Perhaps just to get the excellent fresh bun upon which it is served, because the bakery makes those too.
La Morenita bakery and restaurant: 1157 Cypress Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 222-7953. Open daily, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.