Have you ever been fulfilled by a snow cone? They seem refreshing at first, but eventually you remember they're basically just sugar and frozen water - plain, substance-less, disappointing.
Unless, that is, you've ever eaten raspados. The Mexican version of "scraped ice" addresses all of the American version's incompetencies, and then improves upon them.
Homemade syrups, fruits, candies and even ice cream make these treats well-rounded, filling and sometimes almost vaguely healthy.
Raspadors - the people in charge of making these delights - are often more creative and inventive than purveyors of the plain old snow cone. Their flavors and varieties are endless, but can also be a bit intimidating. To show you around, we visited some of our favorite vendors in town.
Did you know
The menu at some raspado places can be a bit confusing until you've learned all the terms. The word pico, for example, doesn't have the same meaning as the tomato-based pico de gallo salsa we're used to. On most menus, pico means fruit, which often comes sliced and covered with chili powder and lime juice.
The Robles family has been serving raspados on Congress Street near Grande Avenue for 14 years. In May, they moved the bulk of that business down the street into the new Mercado San Agustín.
They also moved into larger quarters near their original spot and opened a restaurant at 921 W. Congress St., Sonoran Delights, that offers the frozen treats as dessert.
While standard flavors like strawberry and pineapple are popular, Sonoran also serves exotic combinations such as the chamoyada with lime, tamarind candy and spicy chamoy sauce.
Another way to make your snow cone creamy is to add lechera, or sweetened condensed milk. Just make sure you stir it up before you eat, because it's very thick and flavorful.
The mangoyada con rielitos ($2.75 for a small) at Sonoran is a snow cone filled with mangos, chamoy sauce and ultra-sour tamarind candies. The deep red fruit sauce gives a spicy, tangy flavor, almost like a shrimp cocktail. This version in particular had very little ice and was mostly sauce.
• 100 S. Avenida del Convento, 344-8470.
Michoacán Taqueria/Raspados has a variety of homemade flavors: watermelon, pineapple, plum, tamarind and more. If you're not ready to play in the snow, they also have shakes, and serve Sonoran hot dogs, menudo, tortas and other savory foods.
Raspados can be sweet, they can be spicy, and they don't even have to be fruity. The pecan-flavored raspado ($2.49 for a small) at Michoacán is milky and crunchy, filled with little bits of pecan.
Michoacán Taqueria is named after the central state of Mexico, home to the ice cream capital, Tocumbo. In that city, people make ice cream out of avocados, tequila and pine nuts.
• 3235 N. Flowing Wells Road, 888-0421.
If you don't want to go wrong, start out with a plain flavor like strawberry. The strawberry raspado ($1.64 for a small) at Oasis tastes even better when you add a scoop of ice cream, or nieve, which makes it fruity and creamy at the same time. You can even skip the shaved ice altogether and get a Macedonia.
Oasis is part of a local chain.
• 1002 W. St. Mary's Road, 792-6657.
Rincon Tarasco A La Michoacana
Another popular spicy Mexican candy is the saladito, a dried plum with a chewy, wrinkly skin. They're extremely salty, so don't expect to like them unless you've acquired the taste.
In this saladito raspado ($2.55) at A La Michoacana on the south side, the tartness is augmented by adding salt and the juice of about four or five limes. (Don't be confused if it says "lemon" on the menu.) The result is something that tastes almost like a margarita, but unbelievably sour.
Tiny A La Michoacana also features a variety of flavors such as eggnog with banana, mangoyada and a special creation called the tuti, with peanuts, mango, orange, pineapple and chamoy sauce ($2.99).
• 4501 S. 12th Ave., 305-4520.
Paletería y Nevería
One of the best places to get raspados is a little shack on South Sixth Avenue, just north of Food City. Paletería y Nevería is owned by neighboring restaurant Pico De Gallo and serves Macedonias, ice cream cones, smoothies and more.
The mango raspado with condensed milk ($3 for a small) at Paletería y Nevería has the freshest tasting mango around. It's not all chewy or old like it's been sitting out, but firm and flavorful. It's the perfect treat to end a hot journey.
• 2602 S. Sixth Ave.
The Star's Inger Sandal and Veronica Cruz contributed to this report.