My first visit to Cristino’s Bakery was halfway through my freshman year of college. After a long day at the beach with my family, who had come down to visit me at UCSB, we were ready for lunch but couldn’t think of anything off the top of our heads. After a quick Google search, we found Cristino’s. It was just a short drive away from campus, and the photos were enough to make our mouths water.
Walking into the small shop near the airport on Aero Camino, we were greeted with the smell of freshly baked bread and warm smiles from the workers. The atmosphere was welcoming, reminding me of places in Richmond, my hometown. My entire family ordered their chicken chipotle sandwich, and we all gushed over how well the spicy sauce meshed together with the crisp bread. We were treated with such attentiveness and kindness that I made it a mission to visit again.
Every chance since, I’ve visited the panaderia to order a hot cup of the thick, chocolatey drink champurrado and a white concha. It was hard to find a champurrado similar to the one my family makes for Christmas gathering, but Cristino’s tasted almost identical, like a warm hug for your insides.
I recently called Cristino’s to learn more about their story, and co-owner Lorena Casas answered the phone herself. “We wanted something for ourselves instead of working for someone else,” she told me, explaining that she and her business partner, Cristino Vazques, opened the business on October 2, 2017. “Cristino had some background in baking, and I also had experience in customer service.” Today, it’s a family-run enterprise with seven employees, serving both Mexican-inspired breads and dishes — with specials such as menudo on Sundays and occasionally birria tacos with consomé — as well as classic American deli items, including bagels, tri-tip and veggie sandwiches, and chicken Caesar and Greek salads.
Casas hails from Oaxaca, while Vazques is originally from Guererro, and their menu reflects those backgrounds. “All the recipes that we make are the same ones we had when we were kids,” Casas said. “Our inspirations come from our hometowns.” They bake a wide selection of sweet breads daily, ranging from puerquitos, which is a type of cookie, and muffin-like mantecadas to jam-filled treats they call “Monio” and “Cono Relleno.”
The bakery also makes seasonal breads to celebrate Mexican holidays. For Día de los Reyes, for example, they prepare a rosca, or wreath, which can be filled with small plastic babies, much like the king cake tradition in New Orleans. Whoever gets the baby must host the Fiesta de La Candelaria, and searching for the prize while eating is a great way to bring whole families together for the day.
Of course, COVID-19 is affecting the business, like everywhere else. “It has been very challenging,” said Casas. “There were a lot of people coming from Lompoc, Santa Maria, and Ventura to work over here, but now a lot of those customers are working from home.”
But Cristino’s Bakery remains open and is doing plenty of takeout. They’ll be selling their annual Día de los Muertos bread toward the end of October, just another reason to visit this hidden Goleta gem, especially for Latinx college students who miss the taste of pan dulce.
170 Aero Camino, Goleta; (805) 455-6900
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