It’s easy to underestimate the wonders within Mexico Bakery on Alum Rock Avenue in East San Jose from its modest storefront. But stepping inside, the interior, like some magical Tardis machine, seems three or four times larger than it possibly could be as the mind struggles to take in the colors, shapes and varieties of all the baked goods.
The first impression is of bounty. All the cases are filled with trays, and every tray is full of fresh-baked, carefully arranged desserts and treats.
The cases on the long side of an L-shaped counter are filled with doughnuts, turnovers, mini-fruit pies, sliced jelly rolls, thumbprint cookies and pan dulce. The shorter case displays decorated cakes for formal occasions, sheet cake slices of every kind, fruit and custard tarts, jelly rolls and gelatina cakes.
The pièce de résistance is the Chocoflan, a splendid achievement that is half chocolate cake and half flan, topped with a coffee buttercream frosting and chocolate-dipped strawberries.
“I went to Mexico City around 20 years ago,” bakery co-owner Melchor Landin told San José Spotlight. “One guy sold it in the street and called it ‘impossible bread.’ I said, ‘Why do you say it’s impossible?’ and he said, “Because nobody else can make it.’ Well, somebody made it so it can’t be impossible. And I figured out how to do it.”
The story of Mexico Bakery begins with Landin’s father and namesake, Melchor Landin, bringing his family to Salinas from Silao in Guanajuato, Mexico over 45 years ago and finding work only in the fields. Moving to San Jose in 1980, he found work at the Safeway bakery before starting the first Mexico Bakery at 2811 Story Road in San Jose. This was followed by the Alum Rock location and another at 87 E. Santa Clara St.
When the patriarch of the family died of COVID-19 at the age of 79 in 2020, four of his five sons took over the business and are continuing his plan to open a fourth location in Hollister.
“My father taught me how to make bread and gave me the recipes,” Landin said. “Everything he made was fresh and all from scratch, not like what you get in the factories. The bakery became my passion.”
While the bakery offers traditional European-style desserts, customers can’t miss the more than 25 varieties of authentic Mexican pan dulce.
Highlights include Polvorónes, which Landin translates as “cookie clown,” a rich tricolor cookie flavored with chocolate, strawberry and vanilla; Pink Cuernitos, dense crescent rolls striped with strawberry dough; Puerquitos, chewy pig-shaped gingerbread-like cookies with the dark taste of Mexican brown sugar; Cono con Azucar Glass, pastry cones filled with custard and topped with powdered sugar; and of course, Conchas, domed seashell-shaped cookies topped with flavored sugar paste.
When pressed to choose a favorite, Landin hedges a bit.
“My favorite is the conchas,” he said. “It is not just a favorite for me, but a favorite at any Mexican bakery. But half our business is our tortas; if we did not have them, our sales would be really down.”
With the splendor of the desserts and cakes on display, it is easy to miss other offerings including breakfast croissants, burritos, quesadillas and a dozen different tortas served on thin rolls, including the classic Cubano, along with chicken, pork tenderloin, cheese, ham, egg or hot dog tortas. There is even a Hawaiian torta with ham and pineapple.
“Their tortas could feed a whole family,” said regular customer Yan Jones. “I also like the smoothies, the doughnuts and the sprinkly breads. And the people who work here are genuinely great people. Like during COVID, you could still slide in here for some breakfast if you didn’t have any money.”
Indeed, Landin said taking care of those hit hard by the pandemic, whether customers or employees, was a priority for him and his family. With assistance from government pandemic loans, the bakery was able to get through the toughest times without having to lay off workers or shut down.
“We made sure our workers had food and gave them baskets with rice, beans and other things,” he said. “The little bit we had we shared with them. But then we started making boxes for people who could not work and lost their jobs. They could not help it if the economy went down. Sometimes all someone needed was some bread and a cup of coffee. We have always had good customers and owe our success to them.”
Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected]
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Mexico Bakery: A bounty of baked goods and more
Social media: https://www.facebook.com/Mexicobakery/
2811 Story Rd., San Jose, CA 95127
- (408) 272-3838
- 5 a.m. 10 p.m. daily
1560 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose, CA 95116
- (408) 272-0410
- 5 a.m. 10 p.m. daily
87 E Santa Clara St., San Jose, CA 95113
- (408) 920-2518
- 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday
What puts them on the map: A wide variety of baked goods and tortas