Pan American Bakery

$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

It's cold, it's lunchtime and the soup-and-sandwich options downtown suddenly seem so . . . white bread. Luckily, an 18-minute drive leads to a neighborhood favorite near the intersection of Columbia Pike and George Mason Drive, where the choices diversify.

Bolivian-born Genny DeFoor and her husband, Romero, started their bakery about five years ago at this location and opened a larger enterprise in Alexandria about eight months ago. Decorated cakes and trays of sweets are attention-getters, but what's being scarfed down at the few tables in the front of the shop are big bowls of soup, big round sandwiches and big bites of hearty salteaas, the hand-held chicken or beef pot pies that are a true fast-food bargain at $2.50 each. The DeFoors sell about 4,000 of them each week.

"We tried from the beginning to offer the kind of food you cannot make at home because you don't have the time," Genny says. The chicken soup ($8 for 32 ounces) is a prime example. Customers start picking it up at 6 or 7 in the morning.

The DeFoors put whole chickens in big pots of water on a very low boil, with vegetables, garlic, fresh herbs and a few oxtail bones thrown in for deeper flavor. Portions come with huge chunks of potato and tender meat, often with a freshly made cheese bun and small but potent cups of jalapeƱo sauce. Romero is proud to say that his baked goods are trans-fat-free and that no microwave ovens are used to heat the food ordered at the counter. "I use ingredients that are a little expensive," Romero says. "But that's okay. I'm not trying to get rich the next day."

The same buns are used to make rolled pork or chicken sandwiches ($5.50), which are built for sharing. The DeFoors marinate chicken in a sauce of fresh herbs, garlic, soy sauce and a little yellow mustard. Slices of the roasted white meat are piled high, along with lettuce, tomato and peppers.

On the weekends, the menu expands to include grilled platters of meat, eggs and salad. You'd be hard-pressed to finish the portions at one sitting. The lomo montado ($12) is meant for a steak-and-egg lover, with a swath of marinated and slightly gristled rib-eye steak laid across a platter of thick-cut French fries and a mound of steamed rice. Two perfectly cooked fried eggs, lettuce and tomato rest on top.

The pique macho ($12) presents an even greater challenge to finish, with its mountain of salad, peppers, quarters of hard-cooked eggs, thin rounds of sausage and slow-cooked chunks of lean brisket arrayed on a base of the same thick-cut fries.

It's a little difficult for new customers to find prices or descriptions of savory dishes listed in the shop, but the friendly women behind the counter can help with ordering and love to offer samples.

The DeFoors say a new batch of takeout menus is on the way.

-- Bonnie S. Benwick (Good to Go, Dec. 10, 2008)