It’s hard not to be immediately captivated by the wall of colorful pastries inside El Rosal Bakery, tucked away in East Cliff Shopping Plaza, off of East Cliff Drive. The waist-to-ceiling display of pan dulce beams at customers, lights illuminating enormous treats bigger than an open hand that brim with custard and are covered in bright pink sugar or dyed a yolky yellow.
I stood there for a while, mesmerized, while other customers added their selections to metal trays to bring to the cashier. The thought of trying them all floated briefly through my mind, but I quickly shot that idea down—there were probably 50 different sweet breads, cookies and cakes on display. The huge piñatas hanging over the cases smiled down at me, and I felt the pressure mounting.
In the end, I decided to resist temptation. After all, I was here for a savory treat, not a sweet one. El Rosal Bakery is the self-acclaimed home of “The Best Tamales in Town!” Locals in the know and hundreds of online reviews have backed up this title, so I came to see for myself.
Luckily, with only five options, this choice is easier to make. I decide to take one of each. At $2.50-2.99 a piece, that includes chicken with red sauce, chicken with green sauce, a vegetarian tamale with cheese and green chili, a pork tamale with red sauce, and a sweet corn tamale.
Back at home, the tamales were still piping hot, and hefty. I actually weighed one, and it was over half a pound. The masa-to-filing ratio was generous, with plenty of chicken, pork or cheese and sauce wrapped in soft, aromatic masa. They were tender and cohesive, not at all like other disappointing dry, crumbly tamales I’ve had. Four tamales was a satisfying meal for two people. The chicken in green sauce, with its extra spicy kick, was my favorite, while my fiancé liked the chili and cheese the best. The sweet corn tamale was tasty but very sweet, definitely a dessert. All were delicious, satisfying and worthy of El Rosal’s slogan.
21513 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz. 462-1308.