By Vickie Lewis
When Xinia Cruz was a young high school student in her native El Salvador, she was required to work every day after school in her father’s bakery. Although she wasn’t always pleased about having to work with her father in those days, he promised Xinia that she would one day be happy to have learned the skills he taught her. And he was correct! Today, Xinia is the proud owner of Xinia’s Bakery, located in the Plaza Sobrante on the San Pablo Dam Road in El Sobrante, where customers have the opportunity to try a wide variety of colorful, sweet, and savory authentic Salvadoran foods and pastries.
Xinia and her family came to California from El Salvador in 2001 seeking to build a better life in America. Her husband, Julio Sanchez, a general contractor, established his own company, Universal Construction. Xinia worked as a pre-school teacher for fifteen years,first for the Richmond School District and then at U.C. Berkeley. She enjoyed teaching very much; but when her husband gave her the opportunity to open her own bakery, she made the decision to become a small business owner. Xinia’s Bakery opened in May 2015, and just over a year later, it continues to grow and evolve into a thriving business, the popularity of which is spreading throughout the Bay Area.
When the bakery first opened, the menu consisted primarily of Salvadoran pastries, bread, and desserts. Earlier this year, to stimulate the business and respond to customer requests, Xinia expanded the menu to include other popular Salvadoran food items, including, but not limited to pupusas, tamales, sandwiches, plantains, empanadas, and even cooked-to-order breakfast items. The new menu items have been exceedingly popular, attracting new customers and also increasing the sales of bakery items. The pupusas are especially popular, and those with a discerning “pupusa palate” claim that Xinia’s are among the best in the bay area. During our visit to Xinia’s, one customer told us that she drives in all the way from Martinez almost every week just to buy Xinia’s pupusas.
Similarly, Xinia has been told by some local customers that they used to trek to San Francisco to buy their Salvadoran sweets, but now they buy locally from her bakery. Upon entry to Xinia’s,customers are greeted with a warm “Welcome,” usually from Xinia herself. Being a family owned business, Xinia is primarily assisted by her two daughters, Xinia Vanessa and Julissa, and her son, Jullian. She also has another helper who assists in the kitchen. Xinia and her family provide excellent, personal service to all customers. They take the time to answer any and all questions about the menu items, often explaining the ingredients used to prepare them. She genuinely endeavors to ensure that customers are happy with and enjoy their purchases.
The bakery has three large glass display cases arranged in an L-Shape around the counter that are usually filled with fresh and colorful Salvadoran treats. The bright, clean interior of the bakery offers tables and chairs for those wishing to dine in, and there is also outside seating for eight customers at sturdy metal tables. There are no printed menus at Xinia’s, and not all items in the counter displays are labeled. But there is an extensive and informative chalkboard menu mounted on the back wall of the bakery that customers can peruse to read about the many items available for purchase.
During our visit, my guest and I felt like we had been welcomed into Xinia’s home. She invited us to have a seat and soon after offered us something to drink. We opted to try the house made aguas frescas, including Salvadoran Horchata, Nance, and a Passion Fruit drink. We also tried a bottle of Salvadoran Coca Champagne, an orange colored beverage that tasted like a blend of crème and orange sodas. Salvadoran Horchata has a distinctly different taste from Mexican Horchata because it is not made with rice, but rather includes ingredients such as cacao and pumpkin seeds. It has a smooth, mildly sweet and chocolaty flavor and was very enjoyable. Nance, made from the pulp of a fruit of the same name, didn’t have much flavor; the passion fruit drink was fruity and refreshing.
As we sipped our drinks, Xinia left us to prepare a pupusa for us to sample. A pupusa is a traditional Salvadoran dish made of a thick, handmade corn tortilla that is typically filled with meats, cheeses and/or vegetables, and is grilled on both sides. We had our choice of several pupusas: Revuelta, made with beans, cheese, and choice or chicken or pork (Chicharron); vegetarian, made with cheese and edible flowers from the Loroco, a vine native to Central America; cheese and beans; cheese and rice; or a simple cheese pupusa. We ordered the Revuelta pupusa with pork, which was served with a side of tomato sauce and a side of curtido, a type of cabbage salad prepared with carrot, onion, cabbage, vinegar and spices. I personally wasn’t sure how to eat the pupusa, so Xinia offered several suggestions. Since my guest and I were sharing, we cut it in half, and I opened my half (like a pocket) and poured sauce and curtido inside. The taste was excellent! I really enjoyed the comingled flavors very much. My guest, who’d tried pupusas before, acknowledged that these were especially good and that the curtido was excellent. Xinia also served us a Loroco pupusa, which was very good; however, I couldn’t really discern a particular flavor of the Loroco—it just had a cheesy taste. Xinia’s pupusas are a big hit with customers and tend to be one of her best-selling items. At a cost of only $2.50 each, they are a real bargain, and are available from the time Xinia’s opens until closing every day of the week. Fresh tamales had just been prepared prior to our arrival, so we naturally wanted to try one. Xinia’s Salvadoran tamales are available in chicken and pork, as well as a vegetarian option made with Chipilin, a native shrub of Central America and Mexico often used in Salvadoran cuisine. We shared a chicken tamale, which was served nestled in a plantain leaf, and was filled with long pieces of shredded chicken. The corn-based masa had a much smoother, more appealing texture than other tamales I’ve eaten. When I mentioned this to Xinia, she explained that this is because the dough is cooked both before and after the tamales are prepared. This smoother, finer texture is much more appealing to me, so I am definitely sold on Salvadoran tamales. These, too, are sold at Xinia’s for just $2.50 each. And if you like that price, you should try to drop in to Xinia’s for their daily “Happy Hour” from 11 AM to 3:00 PM daily, during which you can buy as many pupusas and tamales as you want for just $2.00 each! Now that’s very affordable for freshly made pupusas and/or tamales! I would be remiss not to mention some of the other items Xinia has added to the menu this year for example, the Pan con Pavo (Turkey Sandwich), served on fresh bread (baked in house), turkey cooked in tomato sauce and spices, and garnished with curtido, radishes, cucumber and tomato. Then there’s a hamburger served with a special sauce and a slice of pineapple on the burger; fried plantains; savory pastelitas, a turnover filled with potatoes, carrots, green beans, and a choice of chicken or pork; and much more. But now let me tell you about some of the fabulous Salvadoran sweets and pastries that are the hallmark of Xinia’s Bakery.
Traditional Salvadoran Pastelitas (fruit filled pies) are plentiful and are available with strawberry, guava, pineapple, apple, mango and custard fillings. Semita bread, made with whole bran wheat, a pound cake center, and a layer of pineapple, is another popular dessert, and is quite moist and delicious. Also available are an assortment of cupcakes and large individual cake slices, including red velvet, chocolate mocha, carrot, lemon, and a luscious Salvadoran Tres Leches cake! We had the opportunity to try the Tres Leches cake and it was so moist and decadent, you’d have to try it yourself to know how wonderful it really is. There are assorted fruit turnovers, assorted large-sized cookies (including popular Alfaros); assorted jelly roll slices, and Budin (Bread Pudding), made using Xinia’s father’s original recipe– a very popular selling item. There are eclairs and Relampagos (Cream Puffs) topped with caramel or chocolate, and even two kinds of doughnuts. Another of Xinia’s specialties is the Salvadoran Quesadilla, a dessert item made with rice flour and a hint of cream and cheese. It is the size of a large muffin, and the taste and texture reminded us of a mixture of pound cake and cornbread, and was very delicious and not overly sweet. Believe it or not, there are even more items that I could list. It is amazing that so many wonderful items are baked fresh right in Xinia’s kitchen with such a small “staff”.
Xinia comes from a very hard-working family and is passing that work ethic on to her children. When we visited, her son, Jullian, assisted by serving customers, taking and preparing the dinner-hour phone orders, and also spent some time informing us about various bakery items. Xinia has two sisters who also own bakeries—Elly’s Cakes in El Salvador, and Kendra’s Cakes in Virginia. Her father’s teachings have certainly served the family well. Xinia Bakery offers excellent food and bakery items, excellent customer service, and extremely reasonable prices. Sweets and baked goods range from as low as seventy cents per item to a high of $4.00 for a generous slice of cake. You won’t find a more kind and genuine hostess than Xinia, so stop by soon and say hello, and try some authentic Salvadoran food and desserts. Muy deliciosos!
3550 San Pablo Dam Road, Suite B1 San Pablo | 510-669-5259 | facebook.com/xiniasbakery