A warm, fresh batch of Mexican conchas are coming to the Nopalito takeout window near Dolores Park, the result of a new partnership between pandemic-inspired bakery Norte54 and Nopalito, Nopa’s Mexican restaurant spin-off that just moved into this location last summer. In the mornings, you can now get Norte54’s “café y conchas,” and come lunchtime, it’s back to Nopalito’s carnitas and totopos. That means more all-day breakfast and lunch options for munching in the park — and it’s especially exciting news for fans of these seashell-shaped and sugar-encrusted buns.
Raquel Goldman was a pastry cook at Nopa, before she was laid off during SF’s pandemic-related shutdown. She started Norte54 as a pastry box hustle, which she’s been selling at the Ferry Building and Mission farmers’ markets, as well as for weekly delivery. Goldman was born in Mexico and grew up in Miami, and spent summers with her grandmother in Mexico City. She remembers running to the corner bakery, grabbing tongs, and loading up trays with pastries, for dunking into sweet coffee or hot chocolate.
“My general experience as a kid is that [conchas] were dry,” says Goldman. “I didn’t love all of them. I had a couple of favorites. I would gravitate toward eating the sugar crunch of the topping. I would just pick that off and eat it.” Now, as a classically trained baker, she became fascinated with the similarities between conchas and brioche, another enriched dough. She started playing with using butter instead of the traditional shortening for deeper flavor, and adjusting the bake to retain moisture. Of course, the Mission has a strong conchas history, with longstanding bakeries like La Victoria and La Mejor serving some of the most traditional. In contrast, Goldman says her conchas are a modern take, crafted to be soft and fluffy, and featuring organic ingredients and seasonal flavors.
The morning menu for the takeout window is short and sweet, featuring a couple of pastries and a few hot drinks (see below). Goldman says she plans to switch up the flavors of the conchas, topping with vanilla, chocolate, or cinnamon sugar paste, and maybe even filling with thick vanilla custard or cardamom-pear compote. (“They’re rich when they’re filled,” warns Goldman. “It’s like whoa.”) Chef Gonzalo Guzman from Nopalito, who takes pride in his masa, developed the champurrado, the masa-thickened hot chocolate. Coffee is courtesy of Andytown local roasters, and served in café de olla, which is sweetened with piloncillo, the raw cane sugar, and scented with cinnamon sticks and orange zest.
Norte54 is now open for walk-ups at the Nopalito takeout window, serving “café y conchas” Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon or until sold out. And the pastry boxes are still available at the farmers’ market and for weekly delivery.