Craving a sweet pastry to go with your morning coffee? Or a meat-stuffed torta that will stuff your gut from lunch ’til beyond dinnertime? Or a beautifully constructed custom cake layered with edible flowers and psychedelic designs? These are all specialties at Los Tarascos Bakery & Deli on East Haley Street, where Enoch Rojas serves more than 40 types of torta and even more variations of pan dulce.
“We have the largest selection of tortas in Santa Barbara,” said Rojas, whose most popular is the Cubana Torta, superfluously stacked with ham, chorizo, chicken, chicken hot dog, breaded skirt steak, bacon, egg, beans, mayo, avocado, cheese, and jalapeño, smashed into bolillo bread, and then grilled a-la-plancha style to meld everything together. Served with a side salad dressed in Rojas’s quite special chipotle ranch, it’s a stunning amount of food for $9.
Credit: Matt Kettmann
The other tortas range from more traditional Mexican flavors, such as carnitas, chicken mole, and chorizo; to ones influenced by Italian, Hawaiian, and typical American breakfast and lunch dishes; to a range of vegetarian options that rely on zucchini, bell peppers, and mushrooms as the base. Los Tarascos also serves burritos, salads, full plates, and a full menu of fresh juices, smoothies, and licuados. But those pan dulce and dessert racks attract the most immediate customer attention, so stacked as they are with colorful creations by Rojas and his team of bakers.
“I had no experience in baking,” said Rojas of when he took over the bakery and deli in 2007 after years of working as a waiter at Café Del Sol, a once-popular, since-closed Montecito spot by the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge. “But I’ve always been curious about a lot of stuff.” He spent nearly two years working on baking techniques and now uses about 50 different recipes for the pan dulce, which include familiar pink-crusted conchas and cinnamon-laced versions as well as more unique ones, such as the gordita de nata, a circular disc stuffed with clotted cream.
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Rojas expressed a little frustration that people expect to pay less for Mexican bread — his sell from $1 to $2.75 — even though it takes more work and ingredients than some of the European-style loaves that are so trendy now. “For some reason, Mexican bread is cheap, and there is a lot of work in it,” he said.
Some recipes and techniques — including the grilled, panini-style tortas — are inspired by his upbringing in Michoacán, where he was raised in the historic city of Pátzcuaro. “Los Tarascos” is also the nickname for people from that state. His journey north was triggered by his passion for basketball and desire to get a Michael Jordan jersey in the late 1980s. His cousin was the first in his family to move to the United States and promised to bring Rojas a Jordan jersey but was robbed on the way across the border. “I never got it,” laughed Rojas about the coveted uniform.
Instead, the cousin invited Rojas north, and that’s how he landed in Santa Barbara in 1992, when he was just 14 years old. He eventually attended SBCC, actually getting newspaper coverage upon his graduation for his American-dream tale, and worked for 20 years at Café Del Sol, though he always wanted to start his own restaurant. He took entrepreneurial cues partly from his grandmother and mom in Mexico, who had run their own fruit stands when he was young.
Credit: Matt Kettmann
When a basketball friend wanted to sell his East Haley Street business in 2007, Rojas leaped at the chance, recognizing that a flexible deli and bakery combination made a lot of sense. A couple of years later, he expanded Los Tarascos into a second location on Calle Real in Goleta, but the sitdown concept was much more work and only lasted until 2015. He’s now considering opening another spot in Lompoc.
“My idea is definitely to grow,” said Rojas, whose daughters both attend the University of Utah. “I’ve been doing a little better each year.”
314 E. Haley St.; (805) 564-2497; lostarascosbakeryanddeli.com