At La Bodega, pastry chef Paola Velez intends to highlight the flavors found in mom-and-pop shops and bodegas around the world. The bakery, which opened inside Compass Rose on Sept. 18, will change its focus every few weeks: Up first is the “New York City Tour,” and upcoming tours will include the American Southwest and the Philippines.
Velez — a James Beard “rising star” nominee and co-founder of Bakers Against Racism — focuses on her hometown, melding the diverse strands of the boroughs’ bodegas into a menu that evokes both tradition and change. There’s a New York-style cheesecake with sour cherry topping (“How could I not do a cheesecake?” says Velez. “I love to eat it and I love to make it”); satisfying black-and-white cookies; a delightful Portuguese egg tart with a creamy center; and a soft, sweet dulce de leche babka.
The tour’s standout may be the Bizcocho Dominicano cake, a traditional celebration cake from the Dominican Republic. Velez’s version, sold by the portion, is airy and light, allowing for the guava-pineapple filling and gently toasted, housemade marshmallow fluff to shine.
La Bodega also offers walk-up customers lunches featuring Compass Rose executive chef Marcelle Afram’s kebabs, wine and other goods.
Cookies, cake slices and cupcakes $4-$9, babka $15, full cheesecake $30. La Bodega is located inside Compass Rose, 1346 T St. NW. Open Friday through Sunday for walk-up orders; preorders available at compassrosedc.com/la-bodega. — SFF
Sharbat is the first Azerbaijani spot in Washington. The bakery’s name comes from a sweet, fruity drink found throughout the region called “sharbat,” based on the same Persian word that is the origin of the English word sherbet.
The variety of pastries and cakes at the Adams Morgan shop reflects what owner Ilhama Safarova describes as a range of influences on her country’s cooking, from local food traditions and those of the neighboring Turkic republics to Russian and European flavors. Safarova, who runs the cafe with her daughter Shukrana, trained as a nurse but later went to cooking school in Baku to become a pastry chef.
Sharbat’s signature delicacy is honey cake, a traditional Slavic dessert made in variations throughout the former Soviet realm. The fluffy, multilayered cake tastes like honey graham crackers, yet the sweetness is nicely cut by silken cream between the layers. Sharbat’s pakhlava is also less sugar-syrupy than the baklava iterations more familiar to Americans; it’s a dense wedge of about 15 layers of phyllo dough with a slightly sweetened walnut paste between them. Other sweets, such as the shekerbura, with its sweet ground-hazelnut filling, are similarly delicate.
Sharbat offers savory treats, including goghal, a round, flaky puff pastry that’s yellow from turmeric and sprinkled with sesame seeds, with a cumin-heavy filling reminiscent of a lightly spiced potato samosa. Hearty options include cheese xachapuri (made with either feta or Monterey Jack) and chicken borek, stuffed with pulled chicken and a vegetable medley.
Pastries and cake per slice $2.50-$6. 2473 18th St. NW. Open daily. sharbat-bakery.business.site. — VHL
Mercy Me owners Andrew Dana and Daniela Moreira, known for their ventures Timber Pizza and Call Your Mother, call their West End venue a “sorta South American” cafe. Moreira, who is Argentine, wanted to showcase the region while not focusing on a single cuisine. Pastry chef Camila Arango, who was born in Northern Virginia but spent a large part of her childhood in Colombia, grew up with what she says was “the best of both worlds — American favorites like Lucky Charms every summer, with Colombian empanadas and tres leches the rest of the year.”
Arango’s pastries incorporate South American flavors and French techniques. The light, flaky, guava-filled vigilante is narrower and slightly crispier than a croissant, and is rolled in sugar crystals. The dough’s flavor highlights the sweetness of the filling, emphasizing a fruit rarely found in French pastries. Similarly, the pineapple empanadas are deliciously crisp on the outside, with a tasty filling inside. Brazilian-inspired bolinhos, doughnut holes rolled in cinnamon sugar, offer a cocoa-inspired breakfast option when ordered with dark chocolate dipping sauce.
Traditional Argentine pastries are well represented, including medialuna, a savory crescent roll. Alfajores, a sweet sandwich cookie filled with layers of dulce de leche and then covered in chocolate or vanilla meringue, vary by region; Arango’s recipe is based on the version from the coastal city of Mar del Plata. Also on the dessert menu are cañoncitos, pastry dough formed into cannon shapes, rolled in sugar, and filled with chocolate hazelnut crème or dulce de leche.
The breakfast menu also includes tacos and bagel sandwiches, and executive chef Johanna Hellrigl’s brunch is available on the weekends.
Pastries and sweets $2.50-$5. 1143 New Hampshire Ave. NW. Open daily. mercymedc.com. — SFF
Rose Ave Bakery
Rose Nguyen creates pastries that meld familiar techniques with ingredients traditionally found in Southeast Asian cuisine at Rose Ave Bakery. Nguyen, who moved to the D.C. area a decade ago to work as a nurse at Children’s National Hospital, is a self-taught baker who honed her skills by working in the kitchens of local restaurants including Maketto and Toki Underground. She eventually left nursing and launched pop-up versions of Rose Ave before opening — just before the pandemic hit — at the downtown location of the Block food hall. After a short closure, Rose Ave reopened for preorders, and more recently began walk-up counter service on Thursdays.
The bakery nods to Nguyen’s Vietnamese American heritage. Her treats are a study in subtle, flavorful compositions: Doughnuts on the rotating menu combine sweet potato brioche dough with such filling flavors as passion fruit, strawberry rose litchi, Vietnamese coffee and jasmine milk tea, for a light, sweet style of the pastry.
The matcha chocolate chunk cookies intertwine matcha, semisweet Belgian chocolate and Maldon sea salt, and are usually one of the first items to sell out. Even the unassuming rolls — which Nguyen says are her favorite items to make because “the dough itself is so fun to work with” — pique the senses of taste and sight. Ube, a yam known for its purple color, is prevalent in dishes throughout the Philippines. Nguyen’s ube rolls, served with bright-purple ube butter, practically melt on the tongue. Her cakes, often also incorporating ube, feature similarly delectable flavor combinations coupled with gorgeous design elements.
Cookies $3, single pastries $4-$5, rolls ($15 for six), cakes $45. Inside the Block food hall, 1110 Vermont Ave. NW. Open Thursday for walk-up orders and Friday-Saturday for preorder pickup (preorders go live on the website the previous Sunday at 5 p.m.). roseavebakery.com — SFF
Yellow opened a few months after its parent venue, Michael Rafidi’s Navy Yard restaurant Albi, with a breakfast and lunch menu that can be ordered from the counter for takeout or eaten at one of several sidewalk tables outside. As at Albi, where Rafidi draws on his Palestinian heritage, the cafe’s concept is modern Levantine. “The Levantine region is pretty broad, but this enables us to hit on anything in there,” says pastry chef Gregory Baumgartner, adding that the current menu is most influenced by Lebanese cuisine, and seeks to balance innovation with “recognizable” tastes.
A standout is the halvah chocolate chip cookie, which elevates the American classic to even tastier heights through tahini-based halvah, which also lends a chewy texture to each sesame seed-topped bite. The golden date coffee cake and the sumac brownie are both perfectly executed in texture and moistness — the brownie is so rich it’s almost like a flourless chocolate cake — but the date and sumac seem like mere hints.
Yellow also makes several croissants with Levantine twists, including one topped with za’atar spices and filled with labne, a cream cheese-like spread that here is pleasingly crumbly. Savory pita sandwiches, as well as mezze spreads such as hummus and baba ghanoush, round out the savory menu, and Yellow also offers rotating Levantine-inspired flavors of soft-serve ice cream.
Pastries and baked items $3-$7. 1346 Fourth St. SE. Open Tuesday to Sunday. yellowthecafe.com. — VHL