When the summer heat hits a peak, Mexican-style paleta pops are the chill solution for adults and children alike.
These aren’t the frozen pops-on-a-stick many of us grew up eating, the ones with sugar, artificial color, and artificial flavor among their ingredients. Paletas are the real deal.
One branch of the paleta family is predominantly fresh fruit and water with little, if any, added sugar. Some are translucent, showing slices of fruit suspended in the middle.
Made with seasonal produce (including avocado; try it before you knock it), you’ll find familiar flavors like strawberry, watermelon, and lime, as well as tropical fruits like mango, papaya, guava, and pineapple.
Another branch of the paleta family is enriched with dairy, with flavors including chocolate, dulce de leche, and coffee; these pops are more like ice cream on a stick in flavor and texture than more-familiar brands of fudge-flavored pops.
The best paletas are hand-made daily at the stores where they’re sold, called paleterias, or their food trucks. A place specializing in both pops and ice cream might be called a paleteria y neveria.
Options are limited only by the paletero’s imagination. Some paleta makers spice it up with powdered hot peppers or the chile-lime seasoning blend, Tajin. Whimsical ingredient choices found around Alabama include cereal, chocolate candies, cookies, nuts, and spreads like Nutella.
With their Mexican roots, paletas in Alabama are generally found in areas with substantial immigrant populations. But gourmet homegrown treats like Steel City Pops (now merged with a sister business as Sons Donuts + Pops in Mountain Brook Village) also are inspired by paletas.
Paletas originated in the 1940s in the state of Michoacan in western Mexico. One village, Tocumbo, even has erected a 30-foot-tall statue of a pink paleta pop in honor of the sweet sensation. Many Alabama paleterias reference the Michoacan connection in their names.
Fruity, creamy, or creatively adorned, paletas are delicious frozen treats, not just to beat the heat but year-round. Here are a few places to discover paletas, or reacquaint yourself with this gourmet yet humble confection.
5301 Cottage Hill Road (36609)
Open Tuesday – Sunday 11:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. Closed Monday.
990 South Memorial Drive (36067)
Open daily 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
202 Bowling Lane (35124)
Open daily 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
925 McFarland Boulevard (35476)
Open Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. Friday – Sunday 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
1030 Ninth Avenue North (35020)
Open Monday 2 p.m. – 9 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Wednesday, Friday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Mountain Brook Village (they also operate a food truck)
351 Rele Street (35223)
Open Tuesday – Wednesday 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Thursday – Sunday 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. Closed Monday.
104 Green Springs Highway (35209)
Open daily Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Saturday – Sunday 1 a.m. – 9 p.m.
5123 Pinson Valley Parkway (35215)
Open Monday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
999 Second Avenue East (35121)
Open daily 12:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.