Hungry for a concha? (A sweet pastry.) It’s less than $1 at this new Mexican bakery

Alberto Contreras Jr., manager of the Panaderia Coalcoman bakery, with one of the shop’s two cases of pastries.
Alberto Contreras Jr., manager of the Panaderia Coalcoman bakery, with one of the shop’s two cases of pastries.

Browse through the racks of pan dulce — sweet breads — at Panaderia Coalcoman and the names may seem unfamiliar. Concha. Pastelitos. Cuerno. Empanada.

Alberto Contreras Jr., owner of the shop at 5220 W. Fairview Ave., recommends that first-time visitors simply look. “Find what looks and smells good and you won’t be disappointed,” he said.

The bakery opened quietly last month in the building that formerly housed a Los Beto’s Mexican restaurant. A Mexican food-truck operator had originally planned to go in the space, but that didn’t work out.

For five years, Contreras and his family have operated Carniceria Coalcoman, located at the back of a strip mall behind the bakery. The shop is a combination butcher shop, restaurant and Mexican food store.

“We had never done a bakery, but people who came in to the store asked us about those items,” Contreras said.

Prices range from 65 cents to $1 per item. Some items are two for $1.

“I’m a hard critic when it comes to my conchas and by far they have the best in the valley,” Boise resident Micaela Rios said in a comment posted on Facebook.

Contreras took a scouting trip to Los Angeles, where there are many Mexican bakeries, to get a feel for the items they sell.

He hired baker Audel “Lito” Chavez, a family friend from California. Chavez grew up in Coalcoman, Mexico, a small town in the Sierra Madre mountains, the same town where Contreras’ dad, Alberto Contreras Sr., who helps runs the family store, came from.

“He is a very good baker,” Contreras Jr. said.

The tradition of eating sweet pastries for breakfast or as an afternoon snack goes back to the 16th century, according to DeAlba Bakery in Texas. Pan dulce developed from French baking techniques brought during the French occupation in the 1800s.

Conchas — seashells in Spanish — are one of the most popular pastries in Mexico. They have the shape of a shell with a cracked sugar pattern on top.

Pastelitos are a soft cake topped with pineapple or strawberry jam and dusted with coconut. A cuerno, or horn, is a round pastry with a pineapple filling. An empanada has a cheese and jalapeno filling.

Earlier this month, the shop offered a specialty rosca de reyes, or three-kings cake. The crown-shaped cake is made from a yeast bread and topped with candied fruits and strips of colorful sugared paste.

The cake is traditionally served on Jan. 6, the Epiphany, when the three kings visited the baby Jesus. A small figurine of a small baby meant to represent Jesus is stuffed inside. The person who receives that piece, by tradition, must host a party on Feb. 2, when Mexicans celebrate Mary’s visit to the temple in Jerusalem 40 days after the birth of Christ.

The shop sold 115 king cakes and prompted the bakery to begin offering other cakes, including chocolate and a traditional tres leches, or three-milks cake.

Contreras hopes the bakery’s visibility on Fairview will expose more people to the restaurant and grocery store across the parking lot.

Panaderia Coalcoman is the only bakery in Boise to offer fresh-made Mexican pastries, Contreras said. There used to be a panaderia on Fairview in the Maple Grove and Five Mile area, but it closed at least a decade ago, said Lisa Sanchez, a member of the Boise City Council.

There are also several bakeries in Nampa, Caldwell and in Nyssa, Oregon, Contreras said.

The bakery is open every day except Wednesday. Hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. the rest of the week.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @JohnWSowell