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Chicago Panaderias a Paradise for Pastry Lovers

By John DiGilio in Food on Apr 19, 2011 6:20PM


Few things entice the senses the way fresh baked goods do. From the mouthwatering aroma of bread in the oven to the warm and satisfying sweetness of freshly baked pastries, most of us tend to have a love affair with flour confections that simply borders on lust. The phenomenon is global and is colored by regional tastes and traditions. If you love baked goods and have not visited one of Chicago’s many excellent panaderias, you are truly missing out.

Panaderias are known for two things: large quantities and low prices. Even the smallest of these bakeries (and many are tiny) tends to be packed to the rafters with baked goods for every occasion and meal. The most common layout is simply rows of bins or trays with everything from rolls to cookies to donuts that are freshly replenished as soon as they begin to empty. In a good panaderia, the ovens are cranking out delights from well before opening to long after the doors have been locked for the day. We have visited our favorites at fairly random hours and have always found folks, armed with tongs, filling their trays and bags with baked goods. Half the fun is looking at some of the creative confections!

What fuels such high volume, you ask? Well, in addition to the great taste, you cannot beat the panaderia prices. Most of the popular treats cost around a dollar or less. Some of the bigger and fancier items, like the cakes, will cost more. But you can generally leave with a bag full of baked goods for under five dollars. If you are hosting a brunch or feeding a large group, your local panaderia can really help pad your wallet. Some even offer bulk discounts on top of their already low prices. It is hard to beat that!

There are a lot of great panaderias in Chicago, thanks in part to its robust Mexican and Puerto Rican cultures. They are literally scattered across the city. Some of our favorites include: Panaderia Ayutla in Rogers Park (6963 North Clark Street), Panaderia Azucar in Avondale (3415 W. Belmont Avenue), and La Baguette (several city locations). Ayutla is a great example of a small, local favorite. There is just enough room to navigate the aisles, grab what you want, and be on your way. La Baguette is at the other end of the spectrum with its big, bright interiors and more European ambience.

When you go, take cash as many do not accept credit or debit cards and take an adventurous palate. We recommend the pan dulce to initiates with sweet tooths. The colors of these sweet rolls are as festive as their flavors. Also be sure to grab a few crusty little bolillos as they are perfect for traditional tortas or any other sandwiches you can think up. Keep in mind too that most of the confections are made without preservatives. The idea is to eat them quick and then go back for more. Now that is a business model to savor!