The whole reason for Cinco De Mayo is the Mexican's military expulsion of the French Empire. Prior to that there was an interesting period when Mexico was ruled by the Emperor Maximillian and his lovely, doomed wife, Carlota. They did it very ala francais, too. See their Sleeping Beauty coach in the museum in Guadalajara and you get the picture. You can still see the Gallic influence on architecture and, less happily, the legal system. And they never worried about whether they were seeing the Real Mexico. Until the Real Mexico came and killed them.
Why is this historic drivel important to you? One word: bakeries. The French may have lousy law and government and self-esteem issues, but they sure can cook. One legacy of their aborted Napoleonic rule is that even the small towns in Mexico have good French bread. The most common form is the bolillo, a split top, tapered, loaf the size of your palm and thick as your wrist. Chewy and substantial. Many places also have baguettes, rolls, or various forms of Frog Bread. A traveler's standby for generations.
But man doth not live by... etc. You also get a yin for some sweets now and then. So you're in luck. You probably didn't think you could get a yummily frosted, flaky-layered napoleon or sticky eclair in Latin America, but guess what? Those treats and many, many more await. There are dozens of bakeries in downtown TJ alone - and fresh-baked bolillos are available even in supermarkets like Gigante at Second and Revolucion or Calimax at Second and Constitution (in Gigante, a clear plastic spiral chutes hot rolls right down from the second floor bakery). But I've spotlighted three very special bakeries worth signalling out as worthy of attention.
Starting with San Ysidro. Located on Second (Juarez) right next to the Cathedral (another thing locals doth live by) San Ysidro is a Cadillac of bakeries. Sure they have bread, if you want to be pedestrian, but first you have to get by racks of lavish cakes, towering stacks of donuts, baked sandwiches, tortes, cookies, fruit-topped tropic isles of glucose, multi-layered muthahs of munch, gooey little landmines of greed, cream-filled carambas, meringue mambos, and visions of sugarplums.
As with all Mexican bakeries, you grab a huge tray and snappy tongs when you come in, then wander around heaping the tray before taking it up for bagging and charging. If you haven't run amok and embarrassed yourself lately, this would be a good time and place. My only problem is meeting the eyes of children who are confined to one lousy cookie while I snatch pineapple danish and cream filled horns. Hell with the little snots: there has to be some payoff for getting old and having to work, and being childish is as good a reward as any.
There's not much point in detailing this place. It's crammed full of incredible goodies and they don't cost much. Have at it. Oh, if that's not enough, the sidewalk window sells the chickens you see roasting on spits in front of you. Around four dollars with the trimmin's. Remember what Mom said, though: don't eat your dessert first.