San Francisco baker’s North 54 is a tribute to grandmother

When Raquel Goldman thinks back to her childhood, the memories of long road trips to Mexico City are the ones that bring a smile to her face. Once the car was crammed with suitcases and the kids were settled, Goldman’s family escaped the sweltering Miami heat to spend the next three months with their relatives south of the border.

Goldman didn’t mind the 2,000-mile journey because she knew it wouldn’t be long before she’d have a bowl of her grandmother’s signature dish, mole de olla — a traditional beef and vegetable soup made with a bold, chile-based broth.

“That was one of my favorite things to eat,” Goldman said. “She would make that with … big chunks of veggies … like chayote, potatoes, corn and carrots. I liked picking out the little corn on the cob from the soup and eating that piece. It’s a very beautiful [dish] actually.”

Raquel Goldman, left, of Norte54, holding a photo of her abuelita, Lilia Lopez Palomino, and mother, Genoveva Herrera de Palomino. At right is the full-sized image.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

Whether her grandmother, Lilia Lopez Palomino, was making savory mole de olla or vessels of fluffy rice, Palomino always cooked meals in bulk for her grandchildren or neighbors who often stopped by for a bite to eat after Sunday service. Goldman frequently observed her grandmother with awe as she breezed throughout the kitchen without missing a beat. The loss of Palomino’s husband early on shaped her into a strong, independent woman, and while stoic by nature, Goldman said she knew the way her grandmother expressed her love was through the decadent meals she made daily.

Goldman, who is now the baker-owner of San Francisco’s Norte 54, looks back on those early childhood memories and credits her grandmother as the inspiration behind her modern Mexican pastry business, which she lovingly named after the Mexico City street where Palomino lived.

“When I was trying to think about names for like the bakery, I was thinking about my nicknames or things like that, but nothing was really hitting,” Goldman said. “Then all of a sudden, I just had an aha moment. I was like, Norte 54 makes the most sense because it was my home away from home.”

Though not a baker herself, Palomino often made arroz con leche and jams, among other treats. She became a pivotal force to Goldman, instilling a strong work ethic.

Raquel Goldman, owner of Norte54, working in the Nopalito Commissary kitchen on 18th Street, in San Francisco, making Buñuelos, at left, and vanilla conchas, right.

Raquel Goldman, owner of Norte54, working in the Nopalito Commissary kitchen on 18th Street, in San Francisco, making Buñuelos, at left, and vanilla conchas, right.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

So when Goldman decided to become a professional baker in 2018, she enrolled in the San Francisco Cooking School, where she took a rigorous nine-month baking program.

During freestyle baking sessions at school, she often found herself longing to highlight classic Mexican desserts. Less than a year later, Goldman graduated in March 2019 and promptly landed a position at Nopa as an assistant baker, where she said she was able to bake conchas, the iconic shell-shaped Mexican pastry, on a large scale during a community lunch hosted by the San Francisco restaurant. When her boss tried the flaky pastry with its sugar-coated shell, he praised her work, giving Goldman the final push she needed to continue developing her craft.


When Goldman was laid off from Nopa in March 2020 during the early part of the pandemic, she decided to focus her efforts on contemporary Mexican pastries full time. In the months that followed, she researched hundreds of pan dulce varieties and toyed around with each recipe. By the fall of that same year, Norte 54 had officially launched.

“I was learning about all the different varieties of pan dulce, and I feel like I’ll never know them all,” Goldman recalled. “I wanted to bring [the pastries] up to a quality I felt they could really shine on their own and not be the versions of what I remember as a child.”

Raquel Goldman, owner of Norte54, pictured in the Nopalito Commissary kitchen on 18th Street, in San Francisco.

Raquel Goldman, owner of Norte54, pictured in the Nopalito Commissary kitchen on 18th Street, in San Francisco.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

For the past two years, Goldman’s set up shop at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, Mission Community Market and a takeout window at Nopalito’s 18th Street outpost, where her growing clientele take their pick of the elaborate sweets she makes. (Pastel, the online business that delivers Bay Area goods, also offers Norte 54 pan dulce on its site).

Norte 54’s selection of pastries has included traditional buñuelos, churro donuts dusted with cinnamon sugar, and her showstopper dessert called “el poli cake,” which is a spin on a classic Mexican snack.

“They’re essentially my version of Gansitos,” Goldman said. “[It’s] a vanilla cake with strawberry jam, marshmallow fluff, and they’re coated in chocolate.” Just before the “poli cakes” are sent off, Goldman sprinkles the tops with fleur de sel flakes.

Palomino, unfortunately, never had the chance to witness Goldman’s business as she passed away nearly five years ago. Still, her enduring memory remains the backbone for Norte 54.

“I think it’s this instinct to make [food] that I witnessed growing up,” Goldman said. “My grandma cared for people that way. Norte 54 is a connection with people, and I learned that from her. Baking and being part of the community, for me, brings it full circle.”

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