Enter Viva Los Cupcakes’ website and the words “Home of the Tamal con Mole Cupcake” will quickly give you an idea of the kinds of treats the bakery is whipping up. The tamal con mole has become her most popular offering, but it’s something that’s come after years of perfecting her craft. In the mid-2000s – as cupcake experimentation hit a fever pitch –Viva Los Cupcakes owner Karina Jiménez found herself working an office job she hated. Looking to express herself creatively, the former studio art major began baking cupcakes for co-workers and then for parties. By the end of 2009 – as more people became aware of her treats – she decided to take a leap and go into business for herself, which is when the Tijuana native asked herself how she could differentiate her business.
“When I decided to bake cupcakes for more than just a creative outlet and turn it into a business, I knew I needed to stand out from the cupcake crowd,” she wrote on her website. “I wanted to create something different and share an interesting cupcake menu. I asked myself, ‘What do I know? What do I have experience in? I know Mexican food!’ and Viva Los Cupcakes was born. I am very proud to be able to share a little piece of my Mexican heritage through these cupcakes and see people’s surprised reactions when they taste them.”
Her first menu included cupcakes inspired by horchata, churros, and a pineapple tamal, which no longer exists. “Tamales are cake,” she told KCET. “They just happen to be steamed, not baked.” This led her to creating the tamal con mole cupcake, but it’s really her childhood that has pushed her to create some of her most innovative dishes, including her mazapán creation.
“All these flavors in are just what I grew up with and I know other people did, too,” she said. “A lot of people come to me and say they remember eating this when they were a kid or their grandma used to make something similar for them. It’s all pulling from our childhoods.”
Currently, Viva Los Cupcakes sells lima, tres leche, cajeta, margarita, cafe de olla, champurrado, jamaica, and concha-topped flavors. (Check out the rest here.) Follow along on Viva Los Cupcakes’ Instagram to learn what new flavors she’s concocted or visit her at the Wall in Los Angeles’ Flower District on Saturdays and Smorgasburg LA on Sundays.