A few decades ago, Mad Magazine (or was it Cracked) published a two-panel cartoon depicting a couple of gringo turistas visiting Mexico on a stifling summer day. On the first panel, one turista tells the other that he heard Mexican Coke is much stronger than Coke bottled across the border in the states. When the second turista opens the bottle, a fizzy carbonated explosion knocks down a bird flying overhead…proving, of course, that Mexican Coke is definitely stronger (not to mention better tasting).
Even a camel would get thirsty in Mexico on a sweltering July day when temperatures flirt with the century mark and there are no cacti in sight to provide shade. No matter how thirsty that infernal dry heat may leave you, don’t ever try to down an entire Mexican Coke in one swig. My sole attempt at doing so left me convulsing and writhing like a wounded beast, thrashing out and roaring in pain. After that, I swore off Mexican “soft” drinks–and since everyone knows that you don’t drink the water in Mexico, I had to find a delicious alternative to slake my thirst and ward off heat in Mexico.
Fortunately, Mexico is the birthplace of paletas, a delicious frozen treat that’s been aptly described as “summer on a stick.” Don’t dare assume paletas are “just” popsicles. That’s selling them far short, analogous to declaring a McLaren P1 “just a car.” Paletas are several orders of magnitude better than the mass-produced frozen treats with which most of us grew up. Popsicles are the Kardashian of frozen treats, made with artificial flavorings, artificial food coloring and processed sugar. Palaetas are made with natural, fresh ingredients–real fruit juice and chunks of fruit you can actually see and taste. Paletas are made without pumping air into the cream, and adding fresh fruit while it’s being processed.
During my all-too-infrequent visits to the Land of Montezuma, paletas have always been my salvation, delivering cooling properties, and absolute deliciousness. Shortly after returning home to New Mexico, we discovered that we don’t have to make a run for the border to enjoy paletas and other frozen Mexican treats. Albuquerque has long been home to La Michoacana De Paquime, a technicolor beacon proffering paletas, helado (ice cream) aguas frescas, raspados de hielo (snow cones) and even such non-frozen delights as elotes, fresas con crema (strawberries with cream) and nachos.
Sadly, as satisfying as La Michoacana De Palimbe (which doubles as El Griego Guiñador on Breaking Bad) may be, we very rarely seem to find ourselves in the parts of town where La Michoacana’s three Duke City locations are to be found. That made it all the more satisfying when Albuquerque’s first Paleta Bar launched in June, 2017 and quickly began to expand. We now live three about miles from the Bernalillo location. My summers are now complete though my waistline may not appreciate paletas as much as my taste buds do.
The Paleta Bar is the brainchild of a triumvirate of thirty-something-year-old entrepreneurs: Claudius Dipo Alam, Joel Marquez and Juan Carlos Estala. In three short years, they’ve not only grown their business within the metropolitan area, but are employing a franchise approach that could extend nationwide. Already there’s one in Escondido, California, a San Diego suburb. No matter in what part of the metropolitan area you may find yourself, there’s probably a Paleta Bar nearby.
The Paleta Bar’s menu is hardly a compendium of all flavors possible, but a select number (currently seventeen) of palate-pleasing paleta choices. You’ll quickly acquaint yourself with the three-step ordering process: (1) Choose your paleta; (2) Choose your chocolate (dark chocolate, white chocolate, milk chocolate); and (3) Choose your toppings (pecan, piñon, pistachio, peanuts and eight more). You can opt to have your paleta plain, half-dipped or fully dipped…or you can have it as my Kim does, with powdered chile and chamoy. There’s a paleta for every palate.
Since introducing my Kim to chamoy (a syrupy sauce made from pickled fruit mixed with spicy chiles and a salty brine), she’s craved that perfect blend of sweet, sour salty and spicy deliciousness which pairs beautifully with sweet fruit and with paletas. Her favorite paleta has become watermelon with powdered chile and chamoy. It’s everything my fall-and-winter-loving wife loves about summer on a stick. It’s refreshing and delicious, the qualities most prized on a hot summer day in Mexico.
My personal preferences lean toward anything dipped in milk chocolate and covered in something savory. My current favorite, at least until my next visit, is a banana paleta dipped in milk chocolate and covered in peanuts. The Paleta Bar has discovered a milk chocolate that isn’t so sweet your teeth will decay just being in proximity. It’s a luscious milk chocolate that forms a delicious canopy over your paleta. The peanuts are just a tad larger than you’ll find on Thai food entrees calling for crushed peanuts. Other favorites include a hazelnut crumb paleta dipped in milk chocolate and covered in piñon. Piñon and its fresh, crisp woodsy notes contrasts beautifully with the sweet hazelnut crumb while the milk chocolate plays three-part harmony. Pistachio, my very favorite baklava topping makes a terrific topping for a pistachio paleta dipped in (what else) milk chocolate. These paletas taste like Mexico!
Inexplicably–perhaps carrying the “don’t drink the water” edict too far–I’ve never had an agua fresca in Mexico though in the states I’ve had them by the barrel: horchata, sandia (watermelon), melon (cantaloupe), jamaica (hibiscus), pina (pineapple), fresa (strawberry), cucumber and more. The Paleta Bar’s cucumber-lime agua fresca is one I’d take to Mexico. It’s a refreshingly delicious elixir when summer heat has sapped your strength. Similarly, the watermelon agua fresca may evoke memories of pulling a large watermelon out of a cold mountain stream and going at it face-first.
Paletas just may be Mexico’s greatest gift to the rest of the world. Few things in life are as refreshing and delicious. Few paleterias, even in Mexico, do it as well as The Paleta Bar!
The Paleta Bar
510 Highway 528, Suite F.
Bernalillo, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 7 May 2020
# OF VISITS: 6
BEST BET: Watermelon Paleta with Powdered Chile and Chamoy, Hazelnut Crunch Paleta Dipped in Chocolate and Coated in Piñon, Pistachio Paleta Dipped in Milk Chocolate and Covered in Pistachio, Cucumber Lime Agua Fresca, Watermelon Agua Fresca, Banana Paleta Dipped in Milk Chocolate and Covered in Peanuts