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Porto's Bakery - what kicks ass?

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I very rarely get up to the Glendale / Burbank area, but yesterday found me trolling down Brand Boulevard near lunchtime. Carousel to the left of me. Porto's to the right. Both Chowhound favorites I'd never been to.

Having remembered the Chowhound love for the potato balls, I turned hard to starboard and moored behind Porto's. At 11:15, the place was already packed. After a fairly substantial wait, I ordered a medianoche sandwich and one of the famed potato balls. Both very good, but I think I enjoyed the deep fried ground meat filled croquettes even more than my sandwich.

There were some other croquette and empanada looking things in the hot display case. My guess is that those don't suck either. Endless rows of sweet pastries looked good too. What else do you Porto's regulars recommend next time I'm in your part of the world?

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  1. Guava-cheese pastries.
    Pineapple-cheese danish.
    Chocolate croissants.
    Carrot cake.
    Fruit tart.
    Mango cheesecake.
    Cheese rolls.
    Apricot danish.
    Coconut strudel.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Das Ubergeek

      I second the guava-cheese strudel, cheese rolls, and mango cheesecake. All three are fantastic!

      1. re: trishyb

        I have to third the guava-cheese strudel.

        1. re: DrBruin

          4rd the Guava-cheese strudel.

      2. re: Das Ubergeek

        I dream about that coconut strudel sometimes. It's very, very sweet, but at the same time buttery, crispy and coconutty. You must be a coconut lover to appreciate it (that and the candied coconut balls).

      3. Porto's is pure evil. Everything is to die for, and I normally steer clear. With that said, and since I work in Glendale and know Porto's quite well from all of the office parties and such, the Crumb Cake (especially when fresh) is out of this world wicked delicious! I love their brownies, tre leche, sugar puff cookies (that literally melt in your mouth), coconut strudel pastry and feta cheese sandwich. Their apple and fruit tarts are quite good.

        The only things I truly would not recommend are their cupcakes. The icing is a mouthful of lard and not sweet enough to justify. Their cookies are so-so, and honestly, I'm not a fan of the potato balls. The meat pies are where it's at! ;-)

        1 Reply
        1. re: lolachowgal

          Well said. I just tried their location in Burbank. I love the atmosphere there more than Glendale and the people behind the counter were very very nice.

        2. Here's a recent thread to help you out.
          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/491323

          1. Papa rellena...you have to try them! Mashed potatoes stuffed with spiced ground beef, then deep fried! Also ham croquettes, the same thing but with ham and cheese, no beef! The pastries are very tasty too, but definitely try the fried bites and the cuban sandwiches also.

            1 Reply
            1. re: creamydeluxe

              He tried the potato balls already. :)

            2. Cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls, cheese rolls.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Food Good

                So the cheese rolls are good?

                1. re: Professor Salt

                  We have converted folks to Portos simply with the cheese rolls. SO good. And one morning we got there as they were putting a tray out warm from the oven - angels sang at the first bite. Really. On key and everything.

                  1. re: happybaker

                    The cheese rolls, the papa rellenas and the ham croquettes are my faves.

              2. I really like the little meat pies, near the potato balls in the hot case. They have a flaky, layered crust that is pretty great.

                Also, the macaroons, and cheese rolls, and carrot cake, and mango cheesecake.

                It's pretty hard to go wrong, except for the potato salad. For some reason, they serve lousy potato salad.

                1 Reply
                1. re: BearCity

                  I'll second the meat pies and the carrot cake.

                2. Their strawbery cream cheese danishes are my favorite.

                  1. The guava cheese strudel is the single best pastry under $1 that I've ever had.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Dogbite Williams

                      Tres Leche Cake and Dulce de leche cakes. UNREAL!

                    2. I tried their cheese rolls once (yes, just once)...They were absolutely delicious. I have to say though, if memory serves me right, they tasted just like the cheese rolls/danishes sold at Goldilocks (a Filipino baker/restaurant chain).

                      Also, I got the whole red velvet cake there for my birthday. GEEZE Louise! It was an intense cake, high and layered and just all-around amazing. Rose petals adorned the top of the cake and it was absolutely delicious (and I know my red velvets!). If you love red velvet or anything with cream cheese frosting, this is a must-try.

                      1. Porto's is ridiculously over-rated. Their pastries are average and most of the food I've tried are just plain awful.

                        The cuban tamales weigh about half a pound each but only has about a teaspoon of pork, the rest is that slimey cornmeal mixure, Blech!

                        Let's see, the pork pie. What a disappointment, 95 percent pastry dough and 5 percent of some dry and tasteless pork mixture, Blech!

                        The chicken pie, again, mostly pastry dough, and too sweet. Ugh!

                        Their sandwiches I've tried so far are barely edible. I decided to to try the media noche cuban sandwich with the croquettes, gross.

                        I'm going to try my luck with maybe the salads and try their freshly baked breads.

                        14 Replies
                        1. re: usrnmna

                          Usrnmna, I disagree as would the tens of thousands of customers, the sales figures (which I often dream of what they must be) and the fact that they have two bakeries and a third on its way in Downey.

                          1. re: SIMIHOUND

                            I am willing to concede that usrmna might not LIKE anything at Porto's, but to label the sandwiches as "barely edible" when they are obviously enjoyed by many people, some of them quite discerning (me, for instance) is stretching far beyond simple criticism. I don't personally care for the medianoche, finding its sweetness annoying, but the lechon I had a few weeks ago (with a potato ball for dessert! Yes!) was a delight from beginning to end.

                            In reply to bulavinaka's gripe about the "cold assembly line service" below, that's the secret of their success. The line can stretch out the door, and you'll still have your food in maybe fifteen minutes, even if you're in Burbank and take one of the sidewalk tables.

                            1. re: Will Owen

                              Personally, I don't think it's a secret - it's efficiency, right? Fifteen minutes can feel very differently, depending on where and how it's spent. Fifteen minutes at Porto's is definitely not like fifteen minutes at the beach. :) And if I have to waste another fifteen minutes getting my damaged goods replaced, I've now spent at least 30 minutes in the spin cycle. As much as Porto's deserves kudos, like most places, there's always room for improvement. Just my thoughts...

                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                To be perfectly honest here, I've had zero experience with Porto's as a takeout place, so I can't argue about that one way or another. Your order bagger was obviously not thinking, and then the moron got rude at you - that would screw up anyone's day. What I was basing my remarks on is the fact that if you're there to eat lunch and had just half of your lunch hour to do it in, you easily could.

                                Continuing this confessional bit, fifteen minutes sitting on hot sand in the hot sun is to me broiling hell, while fifteen minutes standing on line in Porto's is either good conversation or good people-watching or both, depending. To each his own...

                                1. re: Will Owen

                                  Fair 'nough, sir... :)

                                  1. re: Will Owen

                                    15 minutes at porto's can be horrendous. i experienced mine which ended on a positive note last summer when i was 7 months pregnant . I was picking up a parisian chocolate cake for a birthday and almost passed out on the line. i flagged down a manager people and he sat me down gave me a bottle of water and got my cake for me. he even took my credit card ran it and brought it back for me to sign. he told me that there's always someone managing the lines and if i ever need help always go to the person wearing the headset somewhere near the line. i suppose there's always room for improvement b/c i've had non-existent service there as well. overall, it is a good value. I've bought about a dozen pastries and walked out with change in my pockets. we got our wedding cake there which was a pretty 3 tiered mixture of the chocolate and cuban cake for a terrific price. i think they just need to hire more people there.

                                2. re: Will Owen

                                  I will say, last weekend, I had a Pan Con Lechon sandwich at the Burbank shop which was so dry I sucked the moisture out of my mouth and if that was my only experience with Porto's I would seriously wonder about all the praise it gets. But I have had a lot of good experience with their offerings and note that it was busy for a Saturday lunch rush and someone forgot to put on the mojo dressing on and the pork was overcooked. But I had a Potato Ball, plus a bite of Dommy's Media noche and all was forgiven.

                                  1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                                    Damn sorry to read about your dry pigmeat, Patrick. I was rather pleasantly surprised at how relatively moist and tender mine was, since the foreleg part that's used in these can be really hard NOT to get dry and stringy (especially when given an acidic marinade, in my limited experience). Either you were unlucky or I was damned lucky. At least you had that potato ball. Hard to keep pouting after one of those.

                              2. re: usrnmna

                                So where do you go -- in the boundaries covered by this board, I don't want hear about some little shack in Miami -- for better-than-average Cuban pastries?

                                1. re: usrnmna

                                  Maybe I'm in the middle about Porto's. I've found their goods to have great value. I can find bakeries that I personally like much better and I can find bakeries that are cheaper. But to find a bakery that offers so much variety with a very acceptable level of quality for this price is a tough-do. Some things are really good, some are good, and some aren't for me. I tend to side with usrmna on the carb/meat issue, but at the same time, the savory pastries do taste good. Having no reference point other than our Cuban neighbors from my childhood, I don't know if the proportions are in line with tradition - personal preference is important. I've never had a serious issue with Porto's when it comes to their food. It's a great value.

                                  The only minus I'd give them is the service. In general, I've found it to be cold assembly line service. Some would argue, "but what choice do they have?" To a great degree, the customer volume dictates this. But still, the service can improve. As many have mentioned through threads relating to bakeries, one should experience happiness when coming to a bakery. It's one of the truly simple joys in life that is attainable to most of the masses, at least at some level. I usually don't sense this here. First timers would find the situation there confusing, and even for repeat customers, I personally find the area immediately in front of the cases to be utter chaos. I've also found the wait service to be very cold and rushed. I know everyone is busy here, but a simple smile or any polite gesture goes miles.

                                  When ordering from the counter, one needs to be mindful of how items are packed as well. Because many items come straight out of the kitchen, particularly their savory Cuban pastries which hold their heat because of their mass, these should be packed separately.

                                  On our last visit, they packed our order of Cuban pastries - many of which were still hot - under our Mango mousse cake and some other delicate cold items. By the time we got out of the bakery and down the sidewalk, I noticed that the bottom of the bag was hot. Oh no - the young guy who packed our stuff just have fell asleep in science class when the teacher was talking about how heat rises. I unpacked the bag and found most of the cold goods had melted or slid off of their cake bases. We walked back in to show them what had happened and the young guy who packed our goods subtly but wrongly suggested that maybe we had dropped or mishandled the bag. The young lady next to him gave him a slight sneer, replaced our cold items, and everything was good after that. I guess my point is - again - the service can improve. It could be worse, but it could be better.

                                  1. re: bulavinaka

                                    It's 2009 Mr. Porto! Can't you come up with a more efficient way of serving people? Geesh Loueesh!

                                  2. re: usrnmna

                                    What Will Owen said. I've been disappointed by places that haven't lived up to the hype, but doesn't over the top hype retribution do more to discredit oneself? I can sympathize that it's not the end all that some pronounce it to be.

                                    Lately I've been getting the Torta de Pollo and the Steak Torta. I find them edible.

                                    1. re: ahuacatl

                                      By edible I mean delicious.

                                    2. re: usrnmna

                                      I love the things I buy there but have to agree with you about the paucity of the fillings; too much crust and not enuff stuff.
                                      Potato balls, chocolate croissants are tops. The meat pies, pineapple and apricot empanadas are good but, they're typical of the above mentioned lack of filling.

                                    3. In addition to many of the things people have already listed. Next time you should try the Spinach and feta danish.

                                      http://pinkfoodie.blogspot.com

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Pinkfoodie10

                                        i really don't care for the bad comments. we've been going to the burbank branch ever since it opened, and we've never been disappointed - food or service-wise. everything is always yummy and servers are always friendly and helpful. i give them credit for being cool under pressure. the store is always packed! i don't think they have a down time. btw, try the plantain chips.

                                        1. re: bern2lead

                                          I hope I didn't insult you or anyone else by my comments above. At the same time, I'm just trying to keep it real. I know Porto's is a golden goose on this board, but even geese have to poop once in a while...

                                          1. re: bern2lead

                                            The store is always packed but it shouldn't be that way. If they could get a customer in and out in a few minutes like any other bakery, they wouldn't have that long line of customers waiting for that insane routine they go through just to box up a few pastries and get them paid for.

                                        2. I've never understood the enthusiasm for Porto's pastries. As I said in an earlier thread, the guava and cheese strudel is good but has very little filling. (How else can you keep the price under 25-cents/10-lb. bag? ;-) The fruit Danish has a good and ample filling but terribly dull dough. Ditto on the dough for the cinnamon roll. When I described the dry, seemingly leche-free tres leches cake (a Nicaraguan specialty) to one of my former secretaries in Miami, this good Cuban cook was appalled. "It's supposed to ooze milk!" she said. (The fact that it comes in an individual tight-fitting tub is a warning not to expect any ooze.)

                                          But these pork ribs vs. beef ribs arguments get us nowhere. I encourage you to try a direct comparison between Porto's and the outstanding European-style pastries at Ap-Petite. Some bright morning -- early enough so that everything is fresh -- pick up a few of your favorites at Porto's, then swing down to Ap-Petite in Pasadena for a box or bag of their tiny delicacies. For this comparison, I'd focus on the straightforward sweet pastries (pictured at http://www.ap-petite.com/pastriesando... ), not the cakes or tarts. It's important to make the trip in the suggested order, so you can have a Jones coffee at Ap-Petite with your pastries. Or just head over to the Jones roasting warehouse on Raymond -- it's not far away -- and have them make you a cup.

                                          I did an unplanned version of this test a few weeks ago, and the direct comparison was highly revealing. Ap-Petite won going away, and I haven't returned to Porto's since.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: sbritchky

                                            Forgot the links ...

                                            -----
                                            Jones Coffee Roasters
                                            537 S Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105

                                            Porto's Bakery
                                            315 N Brand Blvd, Glendale, CA 91203

                                            AP-Petite
                                            140 N Lake Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101

                                            1. re: sbritchky

                                              The question posed was "What kicks ass?" not "Are the pastries any good?" I like a nice pastry now and then, and admire folks who know how to make them, but I go to Porto's to get FOOD, not dessert. I think we're all answering the question in our own various ways, and trying to narrow the entire discussion down to only what we're interested in does not serve the topic well.

                                              1. re: Will Owen

                                                You're absolutely right. Again, sorry for griping.

                                                1. re: Will Owen

                                                  Will, take a look at the OP, and you'll see that Prof. Salt mentioned the sweet pastries while wondering what was good beyond the sandwich and potato balls he had for lunch. To summarize my answer: "A few things at Porto's are OK, but nothing that I've ever tried there is outstanding."

                                                  1. re: sbritchky

                                                    Okay I've got a rant.....they are charging DOUBLE for some easter cupcakes that are "holiday decorated." If you are going to charge double for something because of the "extra decoration", then get a container that will hold it steady. I took these cupcakes back because they were put in no special packaging and flopped over. Even worse, they didn't have the regular buttercream icing on them, they had some kind of cool-whippy artificial light topping on them that smashed and smooshed even worse than buttercream would have. THUMBS WAY DOWN ON PORTO'S HOLIDAY CUPCAKES! Okay, I know, I shouldn't have gone to a Cuban bakery for cupcakes, but someone told me that Porto's has no line at 7pm so I gave them another try. WHY IN THE WORLD there are 6 employees at the cash registers trying to cash-out 3 customers I will never understand. Efficiency experts they are NOT.

                                                2. re: sbritchky

                                                  "I did an unplanned version of this test a few weeks ago, and the direct comparison was highly revealing. Ap-Petite won going away, and I haven't returned to Porto's since."

                                                  Well, Ap-Petite WENT away some months back, and Porto's is still packing them in. Of course sbritchy was talking about pastries, which is hardly my reason to go to Porto's, but when I dropped into Ap-Petite out of curiosity I found nothing of interest there, a reaction apparently widely shared... Too bad.

                                                  1. re: Will Owen

                                                    It is too bad. Also too bad that Taco Bell is packing in the civilians while Los Cinco Puntos and Tijuana's, among many others, get so little notice here. (But, fortunately, the latter two have neighborhood constituencies that rarely consult Chowhound.) When I drove up to Ap-Petite a few months ago and saw they had closed down, I was so devastated that I had to stop to catch my breath.

                                                    Will, it's also too bad you couldn't find anything of interest in their dozens of tiny sandwiches, cakes, and pastries -- every one that I tried was very satisfying, and some were truly delicious, especially when fresh from the kitchen. They always reminded me of the great informal business lunches I've had visiting Northern Europe. (Except Ap-Petite never asked me to give a talk!) Add to all that the gracious service from both the owner and the young kids she employed, and you have a package that should have survived -- and would have, I claim, if more people had noticed it in that odd location where you had to enter a long, narrow parking lot around back off Mentor.

                                                    By the way, I like only a couple of Porto's pastries and find most of them dull and uninteresting, if cheap, but I do plan to give the non-sweets a chance eventually.

                                                3. If you're on your way to a flight at Burbank airport, pretty much anything from Porto's kicks ass compared to what you'll find in the airport or on your airplane. (The branch on Hollywood Way is directly on the route I take to BUR.) I've picked up potato balls and pastries (the guava and cheese rocks) and made everyone else flying Southwest to Sacramento feel a little jealous. I also like the dulce de leche latte, but you can't get that past TSA, alas.

                                                  1. There are a couple mousses in the display case of the sandwich line area which rock: cappuccino (not sure about the name) mousse & a raspberry chocolate mousse.

                                                    The Tiramisu cake is delicious. We buy it for birthdays on a regular basis.

                                                    The pear danish kicks butt. Chocolate croissant is yum. The dulce de leche kiss cookies are great.

                                                    I love every sandwich I've eaten at Portos, especially the Portos Veggie and the Cubano.

                                                    My absolute favourite thing at Portos is their ham croquettes. I like them even more than the potato balls. Be prepared though: they are VERY rich.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: trixel

                                                      Also agreed with the tiramisu- we've purchased it for birthdays as well and it went over ridiculously well for my FIL's birthday a few years ago. I'm also a sucker for their Media Noche Preparadas and to one of the earlier posters' comment, agree with their guava strudel!!!!

                                                    2. The best kept secret at Porto's is the Masa Real. A sort of cuban cookie filled with the guava jam. Trust me.

                                                      -----
                                                      Masa Restaurant
                                                      2063 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: jackattack

                                                        I LOVE that cookie! And they do not always have it : (

                                                        Two big points. One - the special difference (to me) is that the guava jam in the masareal is thinned - and spiced with cinnamon. It makes it BRIGHT. Next is, they used to make it like a giant pop tart. (One of my best friends said "Wow, it's what a pop tart SHOULD be!") I went there two weeks ago and they were making it as a bar cookie. Not bad, just different...

                                                        1. re: happybaker

                                                          Once in a while they still have it pop-tart style, I'll let you know if I spot it some day.

                                                          1. re: jackattack

                                                            Please!! And thank you!

                                                      2. Went to the Bowl the other night, and was asked to bring desert - gluten free.

                                                        Porto's has a flourless chocolate cake which I've never had, but they didn't have it when I was there, however, they had individual ones ($2.60 each) that I bought and took.

                                                        Three people, plus me, thought they were a delicious treat. Unbelievably GREAT !!!