Hot take: most popsicles are trash. Generally speaking, popsicles are made with too much processed sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, have artificial dyes and flavorings, and come in only the most basic of flavors—e.g., orange, cherry, grape. No thanks. Luckily for us in New Mexico, we don’t have to settle for these subpar sweets, because we have an abundance of locally made paletas (literally, “small stick” in Spanish). Paletas are Mexican ice pops that are either water and fruit juice based (paletas de aguas) or cream based (paletas de cremas). They are naturally flavored with real fruit (often with chunks frozen inside), spices, and other fresh ingredients, and come in almost every variety you can imagine.
While the origin of the Mexican paleta is fiercely debated, it is generally accepted that it was popularized in Michoacán, Mexico, sometime in the mid-twentieth-century. (Hence, why a paletería is often called La Michoacana—a matter that in itself is legally contested). Soon, La Michoacana sweet shops were popping up all over Mexico and in areas with large Mexican American communities in the United States. More recently, paleterías have become even more ubiquitous north of the border.
For evidence of the paleta’s growing popularity in the United States, look no further than the Albuquerque-based chain Paleta Bar. Since opening its first location on San Pedro Drive in 2017, the build-your-own paleta shop has expanded into thirty locations (and counting) across six states. With plenty of the country hitting record temps this summer, the proliferation of the paletería could not have come at a better time. To help us beat the heat, I’ve rounded up just a short list of some of my favorite paletas and paleterías that can be found in the 505.
La Michoacana de Paquime
6500 Zuni Rd SE
When Burqueños hear the word paletería, it is very likely that one of La Michoacana de Paquime’s three local shops will come to mind. The location on Zuni Road is especially recognizable to locals because of its iconic facade—a vibrant and much-photographed mural of frozen Mexican treats—and because of its interior’s use as a set piece on Better Call Saul. Their large menu has everything you’d want from a paletería: dozens of traditional paletas, ice cream, churros, aguas frescas, fruit cups, and Mexican candies, plus a savory selection of crowd-pleasers like tortas, elotes, frito pie, and more. Take one taste of their Mangoneada (mango paleta dipped in chamoy, chile powder, and lime) and it’s clear why everyone from soccer players to Salamanca brothers flock to this beloved institution for a classic La Michoacana experience.
Mobile + Catering
Although I’m still crossing my fingers that Pop Fizz will reopen its brick-and-mortar locations at some point in the near future, the Pop Fizz food truck still allows us to get our hands on some of the best paleta flavors in town. Whether it’s avocado, caramel apple, or chile mango, Pop Fizz prides themselves on using all-natural and organic ingredients with no artificial colors or sweeteners. Grab a Pickle Fury pop at the Railyards Sunday market or catch them on Tasty Tuesdays at Hyder Park, where they might have their delicious dragon fruit or blueberry-lemon cream flavors in stock. To find out where else they might be rolling through, follow them on Instagram @popfizzabq.
New Pops on the Block
La Michoacana del Centro
313 Central Ave NW, Suite A
fter long needing to step up its dessert game, the downtown Albuquerque business district has had two stellar sweet shops open up in the past year. La Michoacana del Centro is sandwiched in a skinny space between Foodtopia Restaurant and Knockouts. This hidden gem is worth seeking out for its wide array of hard-to-find paleta flavors that are jam-packed with big chunks of fresh fruit (strawberry, kiwi, guava, cucumber), nuts (walnut, pistachio, pecan), and other fun morsels (Ferrero Rocher, Oreos, rice pudding with raisins). For an even more flavorful taste of Mexico, pair them with one of the store’s many spicy and savory dishes, such as the papas encueradas (homemade fried potatoes, pork skin, lemon, Valentina hot sauce).
Katrina Ice Cream Shop
521 Central NW
Despite having “ice cream” in its name, Katrina’s is just as much about paletas. You can enjoy their house-made fruit and cream pops straight up or customize them with a plethora of toppings, such as strawberry syrup, fresh-chopped mango, and Tajín. In addition to their chilly treats (don’t sleep on the horchata boba smoothie either), there are warm snacks like elotes and Doritos nachos, as well as a churro bar. The fried cinnamon-and-sugar pastries can be filled with condensed milk, chocolate, caramel, or strawberry; come as a churro split; or be rolled in sprinkles and served atop a thick milkshake.
tiny grocer ABQ
1919 Old Town NW, Ste 6422 San Felipe St NW
I always love finding paletas in unexpected places! tiny grocer ABQ is a coffee shop and “micro-grocer” offering New Mexico–sourced groceries and prepared goods in Old Town. Each day (of this summer at least) they also have one or two types of house-made paletas. The ingredients are seasonal and locally sourced. On a recent visit, there were two yogurt-based pops available: honey apple and peaches and cream. Slightly smaller than a traditional paleta, they make for the perfect light snack while strolling around the plaza on a sweltering day.
Candolin Cook is a historian, writer, editor, and former co-editor of edible New Mexico. She recently received her doctorate in history from the University of New Mexico and is working on her first book.