5 Classic Los Angeles Mexi-Cakes
When I read Amy Scattergood's LA Times article, 9 great Los Angeles birthday cakes, I just knew I had to write my own "inspired by" piece that reflects a Mexican/Latino cake experience in LA.
I mean, the places she shared are good, and I've even had most, if not all, of those cakes (sampled in our makeshift catering kitchens after we've cut them up for guests).
But, those shops and cakes aren't ones I reach for when I'm having a celebration.
I lust for the birthday cakes of my childhood backyard birthdays, where the cakes were blanketed in white whipped cream, sometimes with flowers expertly drawn on the corners, and housing flavors like fresh strawberry, tres leches, or banana, accompanied by handmade gelatinas de leche.
The cakes I remember were big, and yeah, oftentimes garish, (pre)diabetic nostalgic mounds of happiness. They were the ones you were (are still) too scared to get too close to after everyone sang "Happy Birthday" followed by chants of "que lo muerda, que lo muerda," lest your cousins push your face right in to get a noseful of sugar. You could never let your guard down even on your own birthday. I mean, maybe that's when you could least let your guard down.
This is not an article about mom and pop shops or small businesses that make cakes (though some are included). This is about a food item that serves as a symbol of Mexicanidad/Latinidad in Los Angeles that isn't highlighted in food media.
I get why every other article on LA food culture is about tacos. But Mexican LA isn't just tacos - it's also gobs of sweet, soft whipped topping and memories of poofy birthday dresses only rivaled by the bright colors of the cake you couldn't wait to eat.
This Chinese-style bakery has the quintessential strawberry cake. This is THE classic Latino/Asian birthday staple - so delicately delicious with layers of fresh strawberries, whipped cream, and spongey white cake. The almonds on the sides are a must-get, so fork out that extra $$ for 'em. We've been getting this cake for as long as I can remember and it's a serious favorite for my boyfriend's birthdays every year after taking tequila shots (HI BRYAN). Get this cake at Happy Bakery - El Monte, Phoenix Bakery - Chinatown, or Mey Fung Bakery - Van Nuys.
I'm gonna go ahead and say that El Super, the Mexican market, has the best grocery store tres leches cake currently. Fight me. Their produce might look like shite some days (yo, that cilantro lol), but their tres leches has the perfect ratio of liquid to cake and actually tastes the way tres leches is supposed to taste. We've tried many market cakes, but we keep going back to El Super, especially if we didn't have time to order it from la señora that lives down the block. Get this cake at El Super locations.
La Señora Who Makes the Best Tres Leches Cake
Yeah, she gets her own blurb. Back in the day - the 90s - it was all about the señoras that ran cake businesses out of their home kitchens (and they still do). These ladies were anchors of the local economy because they also had other hustles, like tailoring or event rentals. They pumped out multiple-tiered wedding and baptism cakes, and knew how to mold Elmos, Barbies, and more into edible works of art. (My mom was one of these señoras too!) Plus, you could order the best gelatinas from them. It wasn't a Mexican kid's birthday if you didn't have an ice chest full of beer, permed-and-sausage-dressed vecinas, some random guy with a mullet, cake, and the milk-based jello to accompany it. Get these Señora cakes/gelatinas by shooting me an email so I can tell you my connect or asking your mom, your tia, or your neighbor (word of mouth marketing, y'all).
Porto's Bakery and Cafe
Porto's was a newer development in my life and I only started seeing the popular cakes and tarts in college. It seemed that all of my Mex/Latino friends were keen on getting Porto's cakes for every celebration because they offered flavor choices that were not only delicious and beautiful, but familiar: mango, carrot, and that big fruit tart that's really hard to cut. They've expanded in the last couple of years and will finally be opening in the San Gabriel Valley. WE. ARE. NOT. READY. Get these cakes at Porto's locations.
La Monarca Bakery
La Monarca is another recent Mexican bakery business that a lot of millennial Mex/Latinos are buying from. It's a younger, modern take on the neighborhood Mexican panaderia. They offer seating, wifi, food, coffee, pan dulce to-go and cakes, of course. They've also got familiar Latino-palated flavors like horchata, dulce de leche, guayaba, and the ubiquitous tres leches. Get these cakes at La Monarcha locations.
What's your favorite cake to get for your cumple? Comment below!