As fall's cool days swiftly start to outnumber those warm ones on the tail end of summer, mojitos and margaritas are replaced by warm cider and pumpkin spice lattes. But for those with a sweet tooth, the wonders of Mexican neverias (ice cream shops) are hard to part with. Does the cold, Chicago winter mean the end of mole-flavored ice cream and mangonadas?
Maya Mendez, of Paleteria Las Tarascas in Pilsen, says she's kept her shop open for the last two winters. (This year will be her third.) "I was surprised to learn after my first year that a lot of people actually want ice cream in the winter," she says.
Admittedly, Las Tarascas isn't as busy as on those 90-degree days, but it's enough to justify keeping her business up and running year-round. Mendez offers specialty flavors in the winter, like peppermint in December, in addition to her most popular flavors such as strawberry and Abuelita, an ice cream made with the popular Mexican hot chocolate.
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3446 West Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60618, USA
2867 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60618, USA
1806 West 18th Street, Chicago, IL 60608, USA
2635 West 51st Street, Chicago, IL 60632, USA
6733 West Cermak Road, Berwyn, IL 60402, USA
Mendez makes all of her own ice cream and is supplying the frozen confections to newcomer Delicias Natural (where you can find that mole ice cream, $2 for a single scoop), which opened last month in the Avondale neighborhood. "I actually go to the store to buy my own mangos," she says, indicative of the pride many neveria owners have in the freshness of their ingredients toppings. "We chop the fruit to order," says Delicias owner Jesus Saavedra. "It's fresher that way."
Fresh fruit is standard for many of the treats found in neverias and paleterias, shops that sell paletas, popsicles made with fruit and water or milk. It's found not just in the ice creams, sorbets and paletas themselves, but also as a topping for desserts like vampiros, a concoction of mango ice cream generously topped with chunks of fresh mango, tamarind and chamoy, a deep red chili sauce, which come together in that classic Mexican combination of sour and spice.
"Everything is homemade," says Silvia Hernandez about her Irving Park Road shop Alaska Paleteria y Neveria, where it seems you'll always find at least two patrons enjoying vampiros ($3.95) at any time of the day. Hernandez and her husband, Bolivar, are opening a second shop in Albany Park and, while Alaska was closed this winter, they plan to keep both locations open year-round.
Hernandez says many of her flavors offer Mexicans living in Chicago a taste of home. "We like to bring back the flavors you had when you were a child, flavors you won't find at Baskin-Robbins," she says. Hers include pine nut, avocado and chongos zamorano (milk curd with cinnamon).
"Mexican people remember the flavors they used to have when they were kids. We like bringing back those memories from childhood," she says.
While Hernandez enjoys the traditional flavors, she's always coming up with new ones. "I like strawberry cheesecake, so I wondered how you can transform strawberry cheesecake into ice cream." The flavor is now one she regularly offers ($1.80 for a single scoop).
"Everything is possible," she says. "You can make ice cream out of any flavor."
That's a sentiment Guadalupe Lopez of Berwyn's beloved Flamingo's Ice Cream can get behind. With 140 rotating flavors at her shop, it seems Lopez has indeed made nearly every imaginable flavor, including Parmesan cheese, jalapeno and even cerveza (beer). (Single scoops start at $1.75, waffle cones at $1.99.)
This winter, the Berwyn location of Flamingo's is slated to close, but it's not for lack of customers. Lopez's doctor has advised her to retire, owing to mounting health problems.
"The worst thing for me is that I live for my people. The energy, the friends, the friendships that I have with my customers. That's what is killing me," Lopez says, lamenting the last days of the Berwyn shop.
One of Lopez's three daughters will take over the smaller location of Flamingo's in Chicago's Gage Park, where loyal customers will still be able to find the flavors familiar to Flamingo's, although not in the copious quantity of the Berwyn shop. Lopez, who says the only days off in her career were the three she took after her mother died, will be scaling back to no more than 86 flavors.
"That's as far as I can go, because the place is small and I want to have a place for people to sit," Lopez says.
Where to go
Alaska Paleteria y Neveria
3446 W. Irving Park Road, 773-279-8135
2867 N. Milwaukee Ave. (no phone)
Paleteria Las Tarascas
1806 W. 18th St., 312-496-3346
2635 W. 51st St., 773-434-3917
Flamingo's Ice Cream
6733 W. Cermak Road, Berwyn; 708-749-4287