When it comes to choosing where to eat breakfast in this city, the amount of choices can be as overwhelming as your hangover from last night.
For those wanting to expand their palate in the area of early morning meals, a hidden gem in Bernal Heights offers a delectable, culturally authentic dish. The family-run Universal Bakery on Mission street serves up not only fresh bread but a fantastic traditional Guatemalan breakfast.
The bakery excels at Guatemalan bread. Two glass cases display pan dulce in the traditional manner, with shelves on shelves of different types of the sweet bread. You just grab a basket and prongs and take your pick. There are also the two more savory staples: desabrido, an oval-shaped puffy bread, and francés, a segment of smaller breads that you can tear off one by one. They both resemble a baguette but with a much softer texture; when warm, the dough peels off in soft layers that almost resemble cotton candy.
Sweet bread is a ritual of sorts in Guatemala; many families stuff warm paper bags with hot sweet bread and take it home to devour with breakfast. Universal Bakery dishes up an especially stellar traditional Guatemalan breakfast. For $9, you can get a piping hot plate of black beans, cheese, sour cream, eggs, and sausage. If you don't eat meat, you can get the same dish without sausage for $7. Each deal comes with bread or tortillas and a cup of coffee.
A few parts of Guatemalan breakfast differentiate it from your average breakfast dish. For one, the black beans are liquified until they reach a thin texture. The sour cream tastes a little more tart than the American version. The eggs should feel light and fluffy and the cheese should taste fresh.
Universal Bakery gets all of these important elements right. Each part comes together in the perfect combination. The creamy slab of cheese accentuates the rich flavor of the black beans. Dipping the eggs into the sour cream makes them even more savory. And the plate comes with enough black beans to scoop with a fork or pile onto a piece of desabrido.
The atmosphere of the bakery feels distinctly communal, with many Hispanic families and groups of friends chatting over plates of food. In a video on the restaurant's website, the owners explain that in fact many people unexpectedly find people they know at the restaurant. Long lost brothers and friends have bumped into each other at the eatery without knowing they lived in the same neighborhood.
Lucky for us, the bakery serves breakfast all day. Word to the wise: consider taking some sweet bread home with you -- especially the round, sugar-topped conchas. They make a fantastic snack or dessert, especially when dipped in coffee.
Universal Bakery, 3458 Mission St.