Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Dec. 20
J&H Hopia open in National City
Filipino bakery's cheese balls are a must have among many tasty confections.
Here’s a place so new and off the radar that it’s hard to google: J&H Hopia (3403 East Plaza Boulevard, National City, 619-479-0056). It’s so new, they don’t even have the credit card machine up and running yet (bring cash!), although that’s allegedly in the works. The Filipino bakery, which specializes in the eponymous pastries, sits in an anonymous strip mall next to a dollar store. Fortunately, the plaza in question is named “3403,” which makes finding J&H somewhat less difficult. It’s not a quaint little Uptown corner bakery, i.e. the kind of place to wile away the hours in Euro-cool style sipping espressi and nibbling on $4 croissants. It has a different sort of charm, a “we don’t have to put up a big colorful sign” quality, like Sushi Ota, except not wildly expensive.
Hopia, the house specialty, are golfball-sized, flaky dumplings filled with sweetened mung bean paste. They’re heavy, sweet, and reminiscent of Chinese moon cakes in that the dense filling punishes overzealous bites. The starchy, crumbly, unfamiliar texture might seem odd to some palates, but give it a chance and take small bites! The hopia also come savory, with an onion filling. A small box costs about $3.
The hopia are cool, but the cheese balls are what it’s all about. The spongy, yeasty dough encloses a dab of sweet cheese filling that’s almost savory. The proportion of filling to dough is spot on, so that the cheese ball doesn’t come off as a sugar-bomb. It’s more of a lightly sweetened little delight, an airy foil to the dense hopia. Together, they work magic.
The cheese balls also come in “log” form, which may or may not create a more favorable dispersal of filling throughout the pastry. Other items fill the display cases around the bakery: cream puffs coated in hard caramel, cinnamon rolls, spongy cakes, empanadas, and sticky banana lumpia to name a few. Ten or twelve dollars will buy a fair assortment of treats.
J&H may be a total new kid on the block (proprietor Herbert Gundran moved down here from Seattle to open the place within the past month!), but it’s quite the repository of delicious baking. Those cheese balls are a wonderfully novel alternative to conventional pastries (croissants, biscuits, donuts, etc.), and make J&H completely worth a trip to National City to stock up on cheesy pastry.
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