A Mexican American Baker Is Innovating Pan Dulce for Today’s Bay Area

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woman stands at a large wooden table, serving Mexican American pastries with a knife
Norte 54's founder, Raquel Goldman, plates pan dulce at Nopalito's 18th St. location. (Alan Chazaro)

¡Hella Hungry! is a column about Bay Area foodmakers, exploring the region's culinary cultures through the mouth of a first-generation local.

Here’s an outright confession: I’m not a morning pastries kind of guy. Coffee and a bagel? Sure. But when it comes to morning sweets, it takes a certain kind of treat to really get me out of bed. The French and Italian stuff just doesn’t do it for me. I need Mexican pan dulce. 

If you’ve ever bitten into a pillowy, freshly warmed concha, then you know why it’s the most popular morning (and late night) snack for millions of Mexicans of all ages. From the classic chocolate brown and vanilla white flavors to versions whose swirling pinks and oranges resemble a rainbow sherbet spillage, conchas—along with the many other varieties of pan dulce—are a must-have for any madrugada.

So when I heard about Norte 54, a  pop-up bakery founded in 2020 by former Nopa pastry assistant Raquel Goldman, I knew I had to tap in. Here, the conchas come with decadent, nontraditional toppings like salted caramel, Duvalin (a Mexican candy) and strawberry—some are even filled with fruit. These modernized conchas are just one part of how Goldman is leading the way for a new wave of Mexican baked goods in San Francisco.

Born in Mexico City, Goldman was mostly raised in Miami before moving to the Bay Area as an adult. While living in the Bay, she discovered the joy of baking and cultural self-expression. She attended the San Francisco Cooking School’s culinary and pastry program in 2018 and has since built a reputation as one of the 415’s most forward-thinking Mexican American bakers. 

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With original creations like her Poli cake (a sophisticated interpretation of a famous Twinkie-like Mexican cake) and her rendition of a Mexico City-style Garibaldi, the Cole Valley resident isn’t trying to compete with the classic panaderias of the Mission. Instead, she’s creating her own lane, unique to her identity as a “chilanga” who grew up visiting her family in Mexico City but never felt fully seen as a Mexicana. Now, Goldman is reclaiming her roots and serving up some of the hottest pan dulces in the Bay Area. 

The pan dulce at Norte 54 was more than enough to get me out of bed and across the Bay Bridge for a morning conversation about heritage, home and concha-shaped happiness.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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KQED: What’s the story behind Norte 54?

Norte 54 is the name of the house where my grandmother lives in Colonia Emiliano Zapata in Mexico City. I started Norte 54 in 2020, baking from my home [in San Francisco] for the first three months of the pandemic. My former boss and co-owner of Nopalito found out and asked me where I was baking. When I told her I was doing it from home, she told me they had space at Nopalito. Everyone was pivoting at that time. Nopalito had just opened a street-serving window on 18th St. to figure out a way to keep going. So I started serving my conchas there and used their kitchen.

a to-go box filled with a variety of Mexican pastries
A to-go box filled with a variety of Mexican pastries (top: conchas; bottom left: Garibaldis; bottom right: Poli Cakes). (Alan Chazaro)

Can you explain your “modern Mexican baked goods” approach?

It’s kind of ironic. Conchas have been around for centuries, essentially. There’s nothing modern about that, really. It’s more about leaning into things that I want to look good visually, graphically. That’s a modern design aspect. And we’re in California—I’m trying to tap into local ingredients and highlight seasonal produce. In that sense, it’s modern. I want to stay classic—I don’t want to do anything that is too trendy, I guess. I want to pay homage to a classic panaderia—chocolate, vanilla—as much as possible. I have other ideas and I love what’s happening outside of that in other places, but I want to stay clean and simple. And delicious.

What are “Garibaldis”? I’ve never heard of those pastries, but I’m guessing they're connected to Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City?

Garibaldi was an Italian revolutionary, a Civil War hero in Italy. Mexico has ties to that because many Italians left Italy during that time, and that’s why Garibaldi Plaza [in Mexico City] is named after him. Once Mexico went into their own Civil War, many Italians left that area. But there was a panaderia in Garibaldi called El Globo that survived. The original location opened at Plaza Garibaldi but then became a national chain. The traditional Garibaldi [pastry] is a pound cake with apricot jam and covered in sprinkles. They’re typical in Mexico City. Mine isn’t covered in sprinkles, though. I use amaranth, and instead of only using apricot jam, I use seasonal fruits. I cycle through whatever is available. This week is stone fruit. Heading into fall, I’ll most likely use apple butter or pear compote. Whatever fruits I can get.

What are some of the most popular menu items that define your bakery? 

Conchas, Garibaldis, novias [sugar buns]. These are pastries I enjoyed while learning techniques from a Mexican baker online. I was exposed to lots of the things he made. Novias are always the same. Conchas I change the topping flavor. And I have a stuffed concha with changing fruit inside. Also, Poli cakes. That’s my version of a Gansito—with jam, marshmallow and chocolate. I get my berries from a local strawberry farmer at the market. “Poli” is his name. He jokingly told me to make Gansitos. So I did and dedicated it to him. I rolled out the Poli cake a year and a half ago. Nothing has its own following like that.

a knife slices a Mexican chocolate pastry in half, revealing layers of marshmallow, cake and strawberry jam inside
Goldman slices open a Poli cake to reveal layers of marshmallow, cake and strawberry jam. (Alan Chazaro)

Tell me about your “churro donut.” I’ve never eaten one before.

It’s a seasonal item, usually for October. It’s a cake doughnut that gets tossed in cinnamon sugar.  I like doughnuts, and I like churros, so I thought making this cake doughnut could be fun. Doughnuts aren’t extremely common in Mexico, but I found a way to justify having them. I want to appeal to the core values of Mexicano culture and flavor. It’s a good marriage of straddling both cultures. Who doesn’t love fried dough?

San Francisco, particularly the Mission, has a strong lineage of panaderias. How have you been able to learn from what’s already available here while still adding your own touches and flavors?  

I know many panaderias exist. La Mejor, La Victoria, Luna. They have great pan, conchas, everything. But to be honest, I haven’t bothered too much in seeing what others are doing. I appreciate and enjoy them, but I like to stay in my lane and do my own thing. I’m not trying to do what they’re doing, and I’m not at that scale yet anyways. I’m still operating on a micro level and doing things how I’m able to.

Can you tell us more about your Mexican pastry box delivery service? It reminds me of panaderos in Mexico who sell their goods by going door to door in the neighborhood.

It’s a box with five items (there’s also a mini version for pickup on Sundays at Grand Coffee). It always has a concha, granola and a chocolate chip cookie. The other two items are rotating specials: maybe tres leches, Garibaldis, or Poli cakes. If I want to try something exciting, I might make a pie de queso (cheesecake). Those are items that won’t come out at markets; they’re just for the box orders and available for one-time orders or subscription. It’s a fun way to play around and experiment. I only offer SF delivery at this time.

What’s next at Norte 54?

October is Latinx Heritage Month so there will be lots to look forward to. I’ll be rolling out pan de muerto and these cute little calaveras. It’s a challenging but fun time, since I make so many during that time. It’s just another way for me to tap into my culture.

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Norte 54 is open on Tuesdays 10am–2pm at Ferry Plaza Market; Thursdays 3–7pm at Mission Mercado (March to November); Tues.–Sun. 11:30am until sold out at Nopalito (306 Broderick St., San Francisco); Wed.–Sun. noon until sold out at Nopalito To Go (3690 18th St., San Francisco); Mexican pastry box delivery available weekly (SF only).