One busy afternoon in mid-October, the popular Pan Riko bakery was sold out of pan de Muertos — the “bread of the dead” that is placed on Day of the Dead altars — by mid-afternoon.
But, store manager Rogelio de Jesus said, the absence of special bread didn’t stop a crowd of loyal customers from using tongs to fill their baskets with a variety of other traditional Mexican pastries, ranging from cookies to sweet breads to special cakes such as tres leches and strawberry-topped layer cake.
The panaderia, a long-time favorite of the East Aldine community, is at 5216 Aldine Mail Route Rd. near the Eastex Freeway. Its bright red sign is easy to spot in the large parking lot shared by the Food City supemarket.
De Jesus had taken photos as he cooked the pan de Muertos in the bakery’s ovens. The bread is often lightly flavored with anise and brushed with a light orange glaze after baking.
Pan de Muertos is often placed on Day of the Dead altars along with a glass of water for ancestors being celebrated on the Hispanic celebration of All Souls Day, or All Saints Day, Nov. 1 and 2.
The bread is topped with bone-shaped decorations, a reminder that life is sometimes short yet often sweet, and that death is not to be feared.
In addition to specialty cakes that can be ordered for celebrations, the busy bakery features many traditional Mexican goodies. The wide variety includes campechenas, the triangle-shaped pastry filled with fruit or sweet potato; the popular pig-shaped gingerbread cookies known as cochinitos, the eye-shaped ojos cookies, and sandias, which are watermelon-shaped butter cookies.
The little bakery’s reputation has spread across the Houston area. Social media sites offer rave reviews about its variety, moderate prices and convenient hours.
“This place has the best cream cheese empanadas! I would eat them everyday if I could,” according to a woman from Richmond, Texas.
Another customer wrote: “Their cakes are probably even better than the competitors. Wish they had more pan frances, but you just have to time it right to get those really fresh.”
“Love this place,” said another recent review. “They even put a message on the cake for me. Nice and friendly service. The baked goods are really good. Will definitely be back.”
Pan Riko, which means “tasty bread,” is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
— By Anne Marie Kilday