Xielo Artisan Desserts
212 W. Fourth St., Oxnard
“Follow your noses,” I instructed my friends,” I am taking you someplace muy especial!”
When one of my neighbors, who’d lived in California for over a decade, was picked up by ICE just before Christmas, it was bleakly obvious that his wife and two young sons, age 7 and 4, would not only need some financial help, but plenty of cheering up from time to time. So after our back-to-school, shoe shopping expedition in Oxnard, I told them I was going to take them to a small, but very special and different place for some edible treats.
We parked around the corner from the old Woolworth’s building in the heart of downtown and began our olfactory journey sniffing our way down Fourth Street. More than half a block away from our destination, the fragrance of sweet baked goods filled the air. Soon enough we came upon Xielo, a bakery and creperie the size of a jewel box within a small section of the historic Woolworth’s building that surprised and delighted my friends with myriad cookies on display.
Don’t be fooled by the name: there are more than desserts offered at charming Xielo.
A chalkboard menu hangs high on the wall, but my pint-sized 4-year-old friend immediately plastered his face to the glass pastry case and began pressing his finger excitedly at the alfajores (caramel cookies).
“I want that one!” he said, tapping the window, more than once.
“OK, we can get you that, but let’s see what your brother wants?”
His 7-year-old brother pointed to the powdered sugar-dusted estrellitas de fresca cajera (little stars with fresh caramelized goat milk).
I suggested we all try the crepes — with the promise that I’d get cookies to go. I had been here before and had sampled the delicious à la Mexicana crepe filled with Mexican squash, corn, cheese and poblano, but wanted to try the house special “Xielo crepe” with chicken and spinach in a tasty crème sauce. The others choose sweet crepes: two Nutella, banana and strawberry orders and one with a cherry tiramisu and shaved chocolate. Unique fare for downtown Oxnard, I thought, but crepes are popular in Mexico it turns out. Crêpes with Cajeta owes its popularity to the French occupation of Mexico under Napoleon III. After decades of warfare, Mexico eventually overthrew the occupiers, but kept its affection for pastries, French bread (the Mexican bolillo) and desserts.
Xielo has just two small, narrow communal window-side tables for those choosing to dine there. We shared one that seats eight people (at the most) with a soccer mom and her two sons fueling up on sweet crepes in between morning and afternoon games in Camarillo.
Our huge, neatly folded crepes arrived to the table. I loved my flavorful Xielo crepe (the housemade hot sauce was offered on the side) and the Nutella/banana/strawberry were deemed “Muy bueno!” by mother and her oldest son; the cherry one bombed with the 4-year-old, but would certainly appeal to a more sophisticated palate.
Albondigas soup and a sandwich special were available the Saturday we visited; other offerings include shaved ices, inspired by the raspados (scrapings) that have been served for over 100 years at Parque Morelos in Guadalajara. (The natural syrups used here are imported from there.)
There’s Mexican hot chocolate and the thick Spanish-style hot chocolate (more like pudding) made with cocoa from Oaxaca. The coffee beans for cups of java here come from Veracruz.
I’ve tried all the cookies and while they are beautiful to behold and made from 100-year-old family recipes, my favorites, and the very best in my estimation, are the small, fantastic walnut flour cookies semi-hidden on the bottom shelf of the glass case and that are sold by the box ($6).
One of the joys during both of my visits to Xielo has been Juan, the outgoing, super-nice father of the owner, who may be seen flipping crepes, coming around to chat with people and generally making sure that everyone is happy, while his wife tends to remain mostly behind the scenes in the kitchen.
This sweet, family-run place is a downtown Oxnard treasure that is truly worthy of a visit. It might just be the second-happiest place on earth, especially if you are feeling down.