Simple and happy

Panaderia Sabor A Mexico is a crowd pleaser

Susan France

Panaderia Sabor A Mexico has been in Boulder since 2001. It’s sort of tucked away in a strip mall between an Asian grocery and an Indian grocery; a tax preparation company, and I think an insurance company? Its location is inauspicious at best, yet the Nieto family has served their Mexican pastries and baked goods for 14 years in Boulder, and once ran a taqueria in Longmont.

But now the sweet goods are fully condensed in the 28th St. hole in the wall. There, you’ll find a full wall of display cases with freshly baked pastries of various girths, colors, textures and shapes. Now, Mexican pastries get a bad rap sometimes for being too dry, or sometimes people think they’re all just different combinations of the same three or four ingredients. But Sabor A Mexico had the good stuff, and plenty of variety, on the Sunday morning I stopped by.

Inside, a group of kids were chatting and laughing and chowing down on donuts they held in thin paper wrappers. I’m handed a red plastic tray to put my trove of sugary treasure on, and a metal tong. It’s pretty hard to choose between the four or five dozen varieties of donuts, pastries and cookies. So I pace back and forth and likely arouse the suspicion of everyone in the shop, attention that doesn’t dissipate when I finally drop my tray of pastries on the counter like an anvil.

And still my plate of baked goods, heavier than an adult cyclist’s torso, is less than $10.

I take the bag of pastries home and lay them out on the kitchen table and regard them like Faberge eggs. I realize I don’t know the names of any of these things, but I’m excited to give it all a go.

First, I grab the stick. I would call it a churro, but my brain has made that word dirty after all the cardboard “churros” they served us in middle school that crunched like breadsticks. Sabor A Mexico’s pastry was about a foot and a half long, and covered in sugar, cinnamon and brown sugar. On the inside is a light chocolate filling, like ganache. It was chewy and moist on the inside, and it had a perfect thin crust on the outside from the fried edges and sugar.

If I had known what I was getting into with this donut stick, I would’ve bought the rest of the tray of them. It might seem saccharine from the ingredient list, but it was a balanced pastry both in texture and flavor. They blow any middle school churro (and it’s a shame that’s my only reference) and most other donuts clear out of the water.

Next, I picked up the cornucopia of custard. It was a little bigger than your fist unless you’re a giant, and the horn of plenty was a browned egg bread, like challah, but a little more moist. The custard filling was slightly sweet with citrus and lemon flavor. The two elements worked together beautifully — again it’s like a better jelly donut — and remarkably, the pastry retained its integrity and structure throughout the mauling.

I also had a thin, coconutcovered pastry. It was almost the exact consistency and shape of an airy baklava. Coconut strips were piled on top and browned, and the whole thing was covered in powdered sugar. It is a pastry that requires coffee due to its dryness, but with coffee, it’s masterful.

Then there was the catcher’s mitt. It was a super-browned ring of glory, puffed up like a pretzel, and very similar in taste and texture to that. In the middle was that citrus custard, but in the context of the rich, Maillard reaction-based flavor of brown, the custard popped more than it did in the cornucopia.

The joy of Sabor A Mexico — and the joy of old school heritage-based bakeries — is that there’s no pretense in their business, and the only goal is to make people in the community happy. It’s just that simple.