By Abe Villarreal

When I go to the panaderia (bakery) on Thursday evenings to get my pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread), I think about my maternal grandfather who once owned and operated a panaderia in Agua Prieta. It was called Letty's, named after my mother.

I never went to it and never have seen it in pictures. I wish I did, and I do think about it when I go into La Mejor, each Thursday evening. It's my favorite panaderia in Agua Prieta. Small, and quaint looking. It's on a little block right off the main entrance from the port of entry.

There isn't much left on the block. The rest of the buildings are abandoned, discolored, and somewhat falling apart. In between them, La Mejor stands out because of its nicely painted business name, right on the wall, over the door and window.

That's about all you see. In the United States, we have high expectations for our dining and food establishments. They should be spotless. The windows, crystal clean. The floors washed, the cashier a machine to run our cards through before we write our names with an index finger.

That's not La Mejor. What it has going for it is a consistent offering of the best variety of pan dulce. The kind with different colored glazes, shapes that are long and narrow, circles with fillings, empanadas (turnovers), and one of my favorites – cochitos. They are the dark colored, ginger flavored, pig shaped kind that always go best with a cup of milk or a cup of coffee.

When you walk into La Mejor, which means The Best, a nice lady greets you behind the counter. You grab a round metal tray and tongs before you make your way through each display case opening and closing the see through doors as you try to control your urge to get one of everything.

Some people go in and they know exactly what they want. They might go straight to the pan birote box, a type of Mexican sourdough bread that is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside that always goes great with caldos or to eat as sandwiches. The birote is piled deep in a large wooden box.

Others go for the conchas, probably the most traditional of all Mexican pan dulces. They come in three different color toppings that make them look like seashells. I like the pink ones the most.

Each week, I think of my grandfather. His name was Hector. My mom tells me stories of his generosity and how he didn't worry about becoming rich from being a baker. He would give day-old bread away and let people pay on another day if they didn't have enough pesos in their pockets.

Being a panadero must have been hard but rewarding work. Early mornings working in the dark before the world wakes up. Repetitive hand movements, making his best attempt to make sure the pan tasted just as the customer expected it to, each time.

There's something to say about consistency. Every Thursday evening when I go to La Mejor I know what to expect. I know the nice lady will be there to greet me. I know the pan birote box will be filled with that delicious bread for caldos. I know the conchas, the cochitos, and the empanadas will taste just like they did last Thursday evening.

That's what panaderos like my Tata Hector do. They work hard for little money. They wake up early, fire up the oven, and get their baking trays and toppings in order. They know people like me will stop by each week hoping to get the same thing we always do because there aren't too many things better than fresh pan dulce and a cafecito on Friday mornings. It's the best.

Abe Villarreal writes about life and culture in America. He can be reached at abevillarreal@hotmail.com.

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