La Calavera shows its patrons a hidden side of Mexican cuisine.
Cinco de Mayo has become synonymous with copious amounts of margaritas and bountiful taco platters, but Mexican cuisine has so much more to offer.
We’re not here to stop you from indulging in an Americanized holiday, but we do want to introduce you to La Calavera, one of the few bakeries in Atlanta specializing in Mexican baked goods. The bakery is located in Decatur, but you won’t have to travel far to taste its sweet and doughy treats—they’re available at the Grant Park and Ponce City Farmers Markets.
Although La Calavera (Spanish translation: “the skull”) may seem like a morbid name for a bakery, it’s actually a tribute to love. Having lived in Mexico for four years, Eric Arillo, La Calavera’s Mexico City-born founder and baker, and his wife, Dale, have an affinity for El Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a colorful Mexican holiday celebrated in the fall that honors the dead with festivals and lively celebrations. During the festivities, Mexican street vendors peddle sweet sugar skulls, a signature treat now served at La Calavera in the fall.
Arillo, who moved to Atlanta with his family at the age of 2 and now lives in Edgewood, still loves Mexican culture and food, both of which he was exposed to early on at home through his own mother’s baking. He worked restaurant jobs as a teenager but always came back to baking. Reflecting on his career path, Arillo says, “It always kept my interest and seemed like something I could sustain myself doing.”
Although the bakery sells American pastries and bread made with organic house-milled flour (like the white wheat sourdough boule shown above), the real joy is found in its Mexican specialties. “I have always loved Mexican bakeries,” Arillo says. “They’re an indispensable part of daily life for Mexican people; bread is eaten with breakfast, maybe a roll for your torta (sandwich) at lunch, and then often as a little snack with some milk before bed.” Mexican specialties at La Calavera include marranitos (molasses ginger cookies shaped like pigs) and pay de elote (corn pie). The marranitos exude warmth, are soft to the bite and pair perfectly with a cup of café. Not quite savory but also not very sweet, the rectangular pay de elote has a buttery shortbread crust and custardy corn filling. For a truly savory treat, grab the kale and cheddar empanada. If we’re lucky, Arillo will bring back the concha, a seashellshaped, shortbread-topped sweet bun that he describes as a “tricky little item” to get customers on board with but also as a Mexican staple—which means that it might make a reappearance. Those are some bakery treats we can get behind. ¡Buen provecho!
Grant Park Farmers Market
600 Cherokee Ave. S.E.,
Ponce City Farmers Market
75 Ponce de Leon Ave.,
STORY: Lia Picard