I decided a long time ago that I am going to hell in a hand basket.
I decided recently that my basket of choice for the epic journey is a palm-size vanilla-cream canasta (Spanish for “basket”) from the Herrera Bakery on Ventura Avenue.
Tired of Main Street traffic, I was lured to the Avenue last week by the promise of parking and a desire for breakfast a’ la something south-of-the-border. To my delight, I found more than that. I discovered a divine path that led me through tantalizing temptations and sinful indulgences, carving out a slice of heaven in my own backyard.
421 N. Ventura Ave.
5 a.m. – 9 p.m. everyday
My journey began a half-block from East Harrison Street at the S.E.A. Bakery, a kind of misnomer, as it’s not just a bakery.
Since February, owner Jesus Vega has been offering his freshly baked pan dulces (“sweet breads”) in addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner. I ordered huevos mexicanos, two eggs scrambled with jalapenos and tomatoes, served with rice, beans and tortillas. At $4.50 a plate, it’s hard to get a better bargain. I was pleased to find that the eggs were perfectly balanced with their spicy counterpart, yet not at all greasy. And the beans were especially perfect, showing off their refried heartiness as whole pintos, rather than the bean mush so often served elsewhere. Rounding out my breakfast was a piping hot cup of champurrado ($1.50), a drink made from masa flavored with chocolate and cinnamon that goes down smooth and delicious. In addition to other standard egg dishes (huevos rancheros, etc.), Vega offers wonderful pozole and menudo ($6 a bowl) on weekends, making S.E.A. a perfect spot to nurse a hangover.
480 N. Ventura Ave.
8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. everyday
Upon leaving S.E.A., I was ready to indulge my sweet-tooth at Herrera Bakery, where cookies, pastries and pan dulces abound. The smell of owner Crispin Herrera’s daily creations made my knees buckle, but the fabulous flavor of the mini pie-like canastas stole my heart. The sweet, golden-crusted gems give way with each bite to a rich cream filling (pineapple or vanilla). Herrera’s canastas are to die for and the perfect accompaniment to all points beyond. Herrera, who has another bakery in Oxnard, makes other unique treats, including pumpkin turnovers and Mexican doughnuts. The icing on the cake? These treats, which trump any pastry found at trendier cafes, are just 50 cents each.
397 N. Ventura Ave.
8 a.m. – 8 p.m. everyday
I returned to my culinary Eden off East Harrison the following morning, this time trying out Taqueria Guadalajara, another misleading moniker. The small restaurant offers not just tacos but also bowls of heart-and-soul-warming chicken soup, the best guacamole this side of the Rio Grande and big breakfasts. That particular morning, I returned to sample the traditional American fare. Five bucks bought me three pancakes, two eggs and four strips of bacon, all cooked to perfection and served by the ever cheerful owner Marta. Marta makes her own tortillas to boot, and I disappointed myself by not having enough belly room after breakfast to eat a few on their own.
Still, exiting the taqueria I couldn’t resist the urge to grab some canastas for the road. Loosening my belt, I walked across the Avenue pulling quarters from my wallet. Fifty cents a pop is a small price to pay for passage to the afterlife.