With the mercury rising day to day, I’ve been fiending for thirst-squelching drinks and frozen fruity concoctions. My solution? A cruise around the southeast sector of the city to sample summertime treats from three popular Michoacanas. These spots, often painted in white and Pepto Bismol pink, originated in the tropical Mexican state of Michoacan back in the ’60s or ’70s but now dominate the sweet-and-sour refreshment trade across all of Mexico. Typically, their menus offer a wide range of flavors. Sweet frozen treats and fresh fruit bowls with imaginative upgrades contrast with Dorilocos (essentially bags of chips loaded with toppings meant to overwhelm your tastebuds) and their kin. Ham and cheese tortas are often on offer, perhaps to tide over adults waiting for their children to finish their sugar-loaded treats.
Over the last few decades, Michoacanas have become pretty common across most of the U.S. as well. Here in Albuquerque we boast around ten “Michoacanas” spread across the city, though these are not all connected as part of a standard chain or even a franchise. The story of La Michoacana is one of organic entrepreneurship and, eventually, both domestic and international trademark disputes. For the first generation of Michoacanos who got the business model off the ground, that story is complex and often heartbreaking. Because none of the creators managed to get the name or concept trademarked/copyrighted, things turned hectic as shady operators claimed the name and made millions. With that in mind, I try to support La Tocumbita spots when in Mexico. Stateside, I go for the one-off independent Michoacanas and avoid any that carry Cerres California’s Paleterías La Michoacana products or branding.
Cruising up Zuni Blvd. with two vaccinated friends I hadn’t seen in ages, I was almost glad that my car’s A/C hasn’t been functioning. At 85 degrees Fahrenheit, it was just hot enough to justify our quest.
La Michoacana de Paquimé, located at 6500 Zuni Rd. SE, has become a hot spot for cool treats. The mural on the outside beckons with bright paintings of the frozen treats on offer inside. Indoors is another stunning mural, this one of the archaeological site Paquimé (also known as Casas Grandes) in Chihuahua, for which the place is named. The menu, a psychedelic mural in its own right, promises all the helados, paletas and aguas standard at most any Michoacana, along with its own more exotic concoctions. We struggled to narrow down our order, but the youths working behind the counter were helpful and totally comfortable with questions in both Spanish and English.
Just to get things started, we sampled some paletas. My favorite was probably the guava due to its nice chunks of pink fruit flesh. The pepito con chile was also a hit, as the cooling cucumber flavor and chile powder made for a novel yin-yang effect. As we finished up these popsicle appetizers, the heavy hitters arrived. First up, the Bombazo de Mango. This fruit-bowl/beverage had me somewhat intimidated, as it has so many elements. The tamarind asserted itself in my first sip/bite and my face puckered up in an involuntary recoil; I was simply not prepared for the ferocity of the sweet and sour tidal wave that washed over me. Beyond the chamoy (tamarind syrup), there is a nice crunch from the addition of cacahuates Japoneses (Japanese peanuts). The mango itself was nicely ripened, though it seemed a bit of a shame to have it so obscured by the other more combative flavors. Next, we dove into the Frutilocas, a bowl of watermelon, pina, cucumber and tamarind gummies smothered—with a heavy hand—in chamoy. These flavors, though still intense, were measured and even harmonious. All the fruits were fresh and the dish was easy to share. La Michoacana de Paquimé has other locations at 3900 Isleta Blvd. SW and 6501 Central Ave. NW.
Cruising east, we arrived at our next stop—Paleteria Michoacana El Paraíso (9001 Central Ave. SE). There, a horde of children were free-styling their orders, customizing bags of Cheetos, Takis and other salt-bombs in all manner of maniacal ways. Following the lead of the youth, I asked the staff for their most interesting top-sellers. They certainly steered me in a radical direction. Tacos de Tamarindo offered a tamarind gummy shell (in lieu of a corn tortilla) encasing a mix of gummies and sugar-coated peanuts. It did not disappoint, at least not as a novelty—and if you fancy yourself a fan of tamarind candy products, please don’t sleep on this over-the-top iteration. We also went for another heavy hitter: the Takiloco. I remember, a good decade back, splitting a bag of “Dorilokos” with a friend in East LA and being simultaneously in shock and wonderment. This Takis version was even more intense. We are talking about a bag of “fire” hot Takis, split open and piled high with cueritos (pickled pork skin) and Japanese peanuts, all soaked in Clamato (clam and tomato drink) and Valentina hot sauce. I honestly craved the crunch that some proper chicharon would provide instead of the pickled version. But then again, the name implies that it’s a crazy mix of flavors and textures. We went back to the counter to order some agua limon to wash it all down with. Though very sweet, the natural lime in the mix helped clear our palates for the final stop on our aventura loca.
We pulled up to Michoacana la Estrella (7226 Central Ave. SE) in a crazed state, filled up to our gills with chamoy sauce. Luckily, while La Estrella has all the classics and several wild options to appease the kiddos, they also cater to more mature tastes. In their handy photos of items on offer, I spotted a killer-looking bacon-cheeseburger, a range of tortas beyond the standard ham and cheese, and even a shrimp and beef jerky combo dish that had me intrigued. My friends looked dazed, so I took the lead, ordering the tosticeviche with blue coco and pepito aguas to wash it down. The pepito agua, with bits of refreshing cucumber, was the best of the aguas frescas we’d sampled that day, and it seemed to wash away some of the insanity we had subjected ourselves to. I confess that I was worried about eating ceviche in N.M.; even though La Estrella is spotlessly clean, raw fish is worth being paranoid about. Turned out that my worries were unfounded, as they used cooked shrimp as the marine element. With plenty of fresh chopped tomato, cucumber, avocado and cilantro on top, all drizzled with lime, this is a great dish to share with friends sitting on a porch over a few chelas on a hot afternoon. Which is exactly what we did.
Dear readers: If you have come across any new or interesting spots that you would like to see reviewed here in The Paper. please email me with suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org!