How Porto’s Bakery went from an underground Cuban operation to a beloved SoCal institution

After finishing her favorite Cuban sandwich from Porto’s Bakery & Cafe in Downey, Monica Oviedo becomes giddy when she learns the Los Angeles institution is days away from opening in Orange County.

“I’ve already clocked how long it’s going to take me – 15 minutes,” said Oviedo, of La Habra, who’s been trekking to Porto’s bakeries in Los Angeles for 16 years.

When the long-anticipated Buena Park café opens Wednesday with actor Andy Garcia at the ribbon cutting, expect epic lines. Over its 46-year history in Los Angeles, the Cuban bakery has earned a reputation for serving addictive – and dirt cheap – sweet and savory baked goods.

Porto’s expansion to Orange County, and next year to West Covina, comes as Cuba has seized a moment in the pop culture zeitgeist.

Former President Obama reestablished diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba in 2015. The death of Fidel Castro in 2016 helped accelerate the diplomatic thaw. Travel is again permitted to the once-forbidden island nation. And now Cuban Americans – and even boxes of Porto’s treats – are at the center of a Netflix reboot of “One Day at a Time.”

The TV family’s obsession with the Cuban bakery hits close to home for hard-core fans like Oviedo. She’s tried every item behind the counter – 98-cent potato balls, 80-cent cheese rolls, 99-cent croquettes. Her go-to cake? Mango mousse.

“I’ve never had a bad meal here,” the 48-year-old said.

Keeping up with demand

The scene at the three Porto’s bakeries in Glendale, Burbank and Downey can be best described as controlled chaos.

In Downey, the café’s second largest after Buena Park, employees look like Secret Service agents – armed with ear buds and walkie talkies.

Their main duty: traffic control.

As diners enter the 17,000-square-foot café, lines snake in different directions. The crowds can be intimidating, but they’re reeled in by something sweet — the intoxicating aromas of freshly baked…

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