Most Houstonians don’t need an introduction to pan dulces. The most popular is the concha, a springy, lightly sweetened brioche-style bun topped with a crumbly sugar paste molded to look like a seashell. Well-baked conchas are an absolute delight–they’re fragrant, flavorful, and downright addictive.
Some conchas are vanilla (naturally, they’re coated with a white topping), some are chocolate (those are coated with a brown topping), while yet others, decorated with vibrant colors (think pink, red, yellow) and eye-catching designs, are a complete mystery, but delicious nonetheless. You can eat conchas for breakfast with hot chocolate, coffee or milk (they’re dense enough they won’t fall apart when dunked); as an anytime pick-me-up; or even as part of a sandwich.
Here in Houston, the popular pastry is practically ubiquitous–Countless convenience stores, supermarkets, and panaderías stock the sweet breads in their display cases. The sheer number of pan dulce denizens in our great city is actually a bit overwhelming for a Houston newcomer like myself.
Yes, it’s easy to find a good concha in Houston but where do you go to get a great one? That’s the question I posed to KPRC 2 readers. Nearly 100 concha connoisseurs came to my aid with their tried-and-true recommendations. Several panaderías got numerous shout-outs–Arandas Bakery, Lecaroz Bakery, Panadería Tierra Caliente and El Bolillo Bakery.
I hadn’t heard of, much less gone to any of these beloved Houston bakeries so I took it upon myself to visit them all in search of incredible conchas.
El Bolillo Bakery
This is Houston’s go-to Mexican bakery. At the store on South Wayside Drive, one of three El Bolillo locations, you’ll find conchas, cuernos, churros, Mexican wedding cookies, cinnamon rolls, donuts, empanadas, muffins, and, obviously, bolillos. It’s a paradise of Mexican pastries and a real thrill to browse here. The display cases brim with sweet-smelling treats in eye-catching colors and designs. Naturally, I filled my entire tray within minutes of walking inside. I got six conchas in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes.
The conchas: They’re great, really great, wonderful even. They’re sweet, pillow-soft and, some are even filled with caramel. I’m already planning a return journey to stock up again.
Pro tip: Whatever you do, don’t walk away without purchasing at least half a dozen hatch chile and chicken tamales. They’re truly excellent.
Multiple locations, elbolillo.com
A Houston institution for decades, this family-owned bakery now has six locations. At the Beechnut store, there’s no shortage of sweets in enticing colors, shapes and sizes. With great difficulty and a lot of self restraint, I narrowed my selection to half a dozen conchas in a variety of colors.
The conchas: High marks for presentation. The unicorn conchas looked especially magical. I grabbed three of those.
Pro tip: Bring home some chicken or pork tamales for lunch or dinner. You might as well grab a stack of fresh flour or corn tortillas too.
Multiple locations, arandasbakery.com
This mom-and-pop panadería in Houston’s Gulfton neighborhood draws loyal customers with its wide variety of fresh pan dulce. Each day, the bakery turns out hundreds of rolls, cookies, doughnuts and the like. The most popular pastries though are its conchas. They take up considerable space in the bakery’s well-stocked display cases. On a recent visit, made amidst the morning rush, customers crowded the small shop, tongs and trays in hand, pacing from case to case in search of their favorites. When a pan rack loaded with fresh-baked conchas rolled out of the kitchen, I took up tongs myself.
The conchas: The classic conchas here don’t disappoint–the bread is tender yet sturdy, there’s a balanced bread-to-topping ratio and when they’re fresh from the oven *chef’s kiss* they’re magnífico.
Panadería Tierra Caliente
Nestled in a small strip center off Beechnut Street in southwest Houston, Panadería Tierra Caliente offers a massive array of sinfully sweet pastries. On a recent visit, there were hundreds, if not thousands of treats ripe for the picking. The brightly colored, artfully decorated conchas were the standouts.
The conchas: The buttery buns tasted as good as they looked. Soft, and generously coated, they were sweet, but not overwhelmingly so.
Pro tip: The bakery is also popular for its custom cakes.
Multiple locations, tierracalientebakery.com
Where should I go next? Where do you go to get great conchas? Share your recommendations in the comment section below ⬇