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Ham, cheese and nothing else, scooped into a house-made roll at Zaguán Latin Cafe.EXPAND
Ham, cheese and nothing else, scooped into a house-made roll at Zaguán Latin Cafe.
Nick Rallo

One of the Best Ways To Spend $3.50 in Dallas Is this Ham and Cheese Cachito

No more than five words are exchanged before the roll gets nuked.

A glistening square of light reflects off the buttery shell — it’s a fresh-baked sight that causes a synesthesia. You can imagine the aroma and the rupture of a croissant. A minute goes by, maybe less, and the cachito is dropped into a paper bag with a shooter of salsa. There is no breakfast, no mobile snack on earth, as accessible and stuffed by comfort.

What is a cachito de jamon? At Zaguán Latin Cafe (Oak Lawn’s consistently rewarding Venezuelan cafe that’s celebrating its 20th birthday) it’s a Nerf football-sized roll, the buttery-crusty level somewhere in between a croissant and a bolillo.

The bread’s made in-house and stuffed with a scoop of minced ham and Paisa cheese. The cheese fuses with the soft interior of the roll — it’s a breezy, clean queso blanco that has stretchy tang.

The ham is minced to high heaven, presented with an impressive chop like the pork version of the inside of a geode. Cracking it open is fine to see the treasure inside — or you can palm it like a little football and crack into it while you drive. The real question should be: Why aren’t cachitos in every cafe, and on every street corner in this nation?

You’ll find this one in Zaguán’s glass case — too few joints in the city have this fresh, and this fast, selections of goods — with the other blackout-delicious Zaguán pastries. At 20 years old, Zaguán is as good as ever: Owner Carlos Branger’s joint still steams and crackles, the misty smoke of griddled Paisa cheese lolling from the kitchen.

Forget, at least for a second, oily taquitos or the wet paper of a drive-thru egg burrito. The clean white cheese at Zaguán tastes so far from heavy that you’ll feel gravity-less. It’s a pasteurized queso blanco recipe, and decades ago, Branger’s father co-created it. It’s a family cheese. It melds with ham in a sensational way.

Some of the best dishes in Dallas are this fast and this inexpensive, and frequently overlooked. The pupusas topped with curtido, a pickled cabbage condiment, are cheaper than a fried-chicken sandwich at the Pupuseria Yoselyn in East Dallas. The chili momos at this Texaco gas station are such a delicious steal, you’ll want to apologize for ordering them (critic Brian Reinhart knows the power of a gas station).

Don’t forget this cachito. As quick as you can imagine, the warm roll, crackling as you press into it, is handed over. This is how the best food is delivered. It should be like this as much as possible: Fresh-baked and immediate, as close as it can be to the moment the hands that made it.

Zaguán Latin Cafe and Bakery, 2604 Oak Lawn Ave. Open 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

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