Pop Fizz – Albuquerque, New Mexico
The geriatrically advanced among us who grew up during the golden age (1950s through the 1970s) of the “jingle” were constantly bombarded with earworm-inducing singing commercials, those catchy and memorable short tunes used to convey advertising slogans. We couldn’t help but sing along, often to the annoyance of our parents. When, for example, the Garduño family visited the big city (Taos), the kids would belt out the familiar jingle “Let’s all go to A&W. Food’s more fun at A&W. Have a mug of root beer, or maybe two or three.” Our dissonant din rarely persuaded our parents to take us to A&W. More often than not, we were ferried back to Peñasco for a home-cooked meal.
Researchers suggest that women may be even more susceptible to earworms than men. That research was borne out when I suggested to my Kim that we visit Pop Fizz for lunch. Instead of asking what kind of food Pop Fizz serves as she usually does when I suggest a heretofore untried restaurant, she began singing “plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.” That jingle, as we seasoned citizens all recognize, once touted the heartburn healing properties of Alka Seltzer, an effervescent antacid still in use today.
The name “Pop Fizz” obviously has nothing to do with effervescence or with Alka Seltzer. The “Pop” portion of the name is short for “Popsicle” while “Fizz” represents the sound made when you open the carbonated beverages available on the premises. Learning the reason for the name did nothing to mitigate my Kim’s singing of the jingle (now I know how my parents felt), but our inaugural visit went a long way toward helping us understand just why Pop Fizz has become such a phenomenon.
Some of my more entrepreneurial readers probably never heard about Pop Fizz until it was featured in Inc ., a monthly American publication focused on growing companies. Inc. doesn’t focus solely on Fortune 500 companies. It’s got a soft spot for the backbone of American business, the traditional mom-and-pop operation such as Pop Fizz, a humble homegrown, family owned and operated gem which has been winning over savvy Duke City diners since day one.
Day one transpired on a balmy summer day in 2013 when brothers Lorenzo and Carlos Alvarez and their father Rafael launched their own version of relief, in this case relief from hot, sunny summer days in the Duke City. Relief came in the form of homemade paletas (popsicles) made from all-natural, real fruits and cream as well as organic cane sugar (absolutely no high fructose corn syrup). Also available were popular Mexican favorites such as aguas frescas, ice cream and a delicious innovation they called ice cream tacos. Duke City denizens clamoring for relief converged upon the Lilliputian storefront on Bridge Boulevard.
The Alvarez family didn’t let grass grow under their feet before relocating their operation to the National Hispanic Cultural Center not quite two years later. Their new digs are more capacious and include an uncovered patio with picnic tables. With more spacious accommodations and an expansive industrial kitchen, the family has also been able to expand their menu, now offering a number of savory dishes such as Frito pie, several hot sandwiches and even a Sonoran hot dog.
5 September 2015: The Sonoran hot dog (no longer on the menu) has been referred to as the “quintessential food of Tucson.” While it has achieved cult status throughout Arizona, it has only recently begun making significant inroads in the Land of Enchantment. There are even more versions of this savory, smoky treat than it has ingredients. The version at Pop Fizz is constructed from an all-beef hot dog, avocado, onion, chipotle mayo, cheese, bacon and salsa verde nestled in a bolillo bun. It’s as delicious as it is messy with spillage guaranteed. The bolillo bun is pillowy soft and slightly sweet, a nice complement to the smokiness of the hot dog and the piquancy of the salsa verde.
11 March 2020: As an unabashedly proud New Mexican, the aforementioned Sonoran hot dog is only concession I’ll ever make to any food prepared in Arizona being better than the same food in New Mexico. While Pop Fizz’s version of Tucson’s hallowed hot dog was very good, it wasn’t Tucson good…and now it’s gone. In its place, however, is a better burrito than you’d ever find anywhere in the Grand Canyon State. It’s a behemoth carne asada burrito which is absolutely bursting at its seams with fresh, wonderfully prepared ingredients: lime-marinated steak, pinto beans, crispy French fries, Cheddar cheese, guacamole, sour cream, chipotle mayo and Cotija cheese. Most conspicuous by its absence is red or green chile, so whatever heat kick you’ll get out of this burrito comes from the chipotle mayo. Even without the piquancy of New Mexico’s official state vegetable, this is a mighty tasty burrito with some surprising textural delights (especially those crispy French fries). One has to wonder if Pop Fizz knows just how good its pinto beans are. Seriously, these beans should be served as an entree.
16 August 2016: In her song Infinity, pop sensation Mariah Carey intoned the lyrics “Boy, you actin’ so corny like Fritos.” On far too many Frito pies, the corn-infused flavor of Fritos corn chips is lost neath a mountain of lettuce and avalanche of chopped tomatoes. Unfortunately, the chile is also often obfuscated by a salad’s worth of lettuce and tomatoes. Upon seeing the Frito Pie at Pop Fizz for the first time my first inclination was “oh no, not another Fritos salad.” Then the chile kicked in. Finally, a Frito Pie in which the chile actually has a bite, an endorphin-laden, tongue-tingling, taste bud pleasing bite. Chile, not lettuce and tomato, is the prevalent flavor…but it’s not solely piquant. It’s a delicious, rich red chile. The Fritos provide a salty counterbalance and crunchy textural foil to the shredded beef. This top-tier Frito pie evinces the kitchen skills of ice cream makers who can actually cook, too.
5 September 2015: Tacos are an excellent accompaniment to the Sonoran hot dog, but not the savory, meat-filled tacos of which you might be thinking. Ice cream tacos, a Pop Fizz specialty are the perfect sweet contrast to the savory-smokiness of the hot dog. The taco “shell” is a thin waffle shaped very much like a taco. It is stuffed with dense, sweet, delicious ice cream and topped with chocolate. We can vouch for the deliciousness of the mint chip, pecan and chocolate ice cream tacos. The ice cream isn’t soft, creamy and custard-like, but dense and full-bodied. The mint chip is especially addictive. So is the peppermint taco.
In August, 2016, Spoon University, the self-proclaimed “everyday food resource for our generation, on a mission to make food make sense” set off on a course to identify the 50 best ice cream desserts in every state,” one from each state in the fruited plain. The Land of Enchantment’s representative was the aforementioned ice cream taco. Spoon University waxed poetic about this ice cream: “We all scream for this ice cream. You can find this bad boy in Albuquerque, NM, and you can choose from several flavors such as cinnamon churro, cookies and cream, and strawberry.”
5 September 2015: While it’s often advised that in Mexico one should not drink the water, you’re also well advised to partake of as many paletas as you can. Paletas are premium frozen delicacies made with real fruit and cream. Typically proffered by street vendors with pushcarts, paletas offer a refreshing respite from sweltering summer days, but they’re wonderful any time of year. Paletas are available in an amazing range of flavors including such exotic offering as pina and Habanero (pineapple and Habanero), a paleta that packs a punch. It’s got more piquancy than the chile at far too many New Mexican restaurants, but it’s even more delicious than it is piquant.
While Pop Fizz may have started as a neighborhood eatery, it’s garnered a reputation that far exceeds its South Valley home. Savvy diners trek from far and wide to partake of cold treats that will warm your heart.
1701 4th Street, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 11 March 2020
1st VISIT: 4 September 2015
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Paleta de Pina Y Habanero, Agua Fresca de Sandia, Sonoran Hot Dog, Mint Chip Taco, Pecan Taco, Chocolate Taco, Watermelon Paleta, Raspberry Paleta, Frito Pie, Carne Asada Burrito, Peppermint Taco