The neighborhood around the intersection of Fruitvale Avenue and International Boulevard in Oakland is like something scooped up from somewhere in Mexico or Central America and dropped here lock, stock, and barrel. Hardly anyone speaks ingles; Spanish is the lingua franca down here, even in the Payless Shoe Store on the corner.
This intersection is a strange and fascinating amalgam of cultures. There's a Wendy's and a Ford dealership that sit just up the street from a traditional taqueria, a Salvadoran restaurant, a traditional Mexican bakery, a Mexican seafood place, and a store that sells quinceañera gowns -- the Mexican equivalent of a sweet-sixteen dress. Right on the corner, a man sells fresh papaya, cucumbers, watermelon, and mango slices that he'll drizzle Mexican-style with chile powder and salt. Although there's much to see and eat here, don't miss La Favorita Panadería and Pastelería at 1443 Fruitvale Ave., 510-261-2200) La Favorita is a traditional Mexican bakery that thankfully has been untouched by the low-carb craze. Here, you can spike your insulin until you're woozy with sugar glee. And customers line up each day for a taste of Mexico. Don't miss the tres leches (three milk) cake, one of the bakery's most popular treats. Made with evaporated, condensed, and fresh milk, the moist cake is filled with strawberries or chocolate and topped with shaved, sweetened coconut. The glass cases are filled with freshly baked breads, pink-iced cake, and Mexican morning buns called moños filled with margarine and sugar.
Nearby, El Tapatio Restaurant(1416 Fruitvale Ave., 510-261-1411) serves hearty, delicious traditional Mexican fare including chile rellenos, enchiladas, and chilaquiles. Mexican locals come here for the restaurant's fried fish and breaded prawns. Just up the street is the popular Los Cocos Salvadoran Restaurant (1449 Fruitvale Ave., 510-536-3079), which serves heavenly pupusas, tortillas stuffed with cheese, pork rinds, vegetables, or beans. The restaurant's popular platillos salvadoreños include pacalla -- palm flower buds dipped in egg batter -- and tamal de elote con crema -- a corn tamale filled with sour cream. ¡Vamos a comer!