By Christina Autry
Looking at the online reviews of Pan Riko in the East Aldine District, I quickly got the message that this Mexican bakery is well-loved not only by people in the surrounding community, but from all over Houston. Customers extol the virtues of this modest panadería and are willing to drive from all corners of Houston once they have experienced these delectable and affordable baked goods.
Coming from Aldine Mail Route Road at I-45, you’ll know you’ve arrived when you see large red letters on the strip center façade which read “Pan Riko,” meaning “tasty bread,” which you’ll find to be an accurate description. Upon walking in, you follow the same protocol as in any panadería: pick up a round, plastic tray, and make your way around the many shelves of baked goods protected by glass doors. Tongs in each section are provided for you to snag any items that catch your eye.
Though not a large store, Pan Riko offers all of the traditional Mexican bready sweets that a panadería aficionado would expect to find, as well as tres leches and other specialty cakes made to order. Not a panadería aficionado yet? Don’t worry, piling your tray high with good-looking treats will never be a mistake, especially at these prices. I started off by grabbing a “concha” (meaning shell), one of the most iconic and recognizable “pan dulces,” (sweet breads). It does resemble a bun-like shell, with stripes of icing forming a radiating spiral. The one I got used vanilla-colored icing, though a variety of bright colors are available. Next up was the “campechana,” a triangle-shaped flat pastry with apple filling, deriving its name from the Mexican city of Campeche.
Like the concha, many of the pastry names are simply a description of their appearance, such as the “cono relleno de crema,” a flaky cone-shaped pastry stuffed with cream, the “sandia,” (meaning watermelon, as the shape and color of the shortbread cookie resemble), or the circular “ojo,” (meaning eye). The small round cinnamon sugar cookies called “hojarasca” are popular in northern Mexico, and are named after crunchy leaves scattered on the ground during Fall.
The classic “cochinitos,” the pig-shaped gingerbread cookies, the large sugar-topped “caracol” bread (named after its snail-shell shape), and the “rebanada de mantequilla,” (bread slice with butter) found their way onto my tray before I finally hung up my tongs.
All twelve baked goods that I collected totaled about $8 at the register. If you’re used to handing over $3-4 per item at other bakeries, this is the place for you. Despite the low prices, quality and taste are not skimped on. The twelve items that I tried are only a fraction of what tempted me from behind the glass, and all were enjoyed – though the toughness of the “piedra” (I later realized means stone) caught me off-guard until I read that these large biscuit-cookies are usually made with day-old bread, and topped with sugar, and meant to be eaten with a hot beverage.
Next time you’re in the East Aldine area, stop by Pan Riko to satisfy a sweet tooth or to bring your coworkers a heap of treats without breaking the bank. For those familiar with Mexican baked goods, you’re sure to be satisfied – and those less familiar will be pleasantly surprised. Their 6AM-10PM hours every day will give you the opportunity to squeeze in a pan dulce run before or after work. Even if next time is your first time to Pan Riko, it definitely won’t be your last.
5216 Aldine Mail Rte Rd.
Houston, TX 77039