From Black Orchid Lounge, in El Paso.
In the world of contemporary mixology, finding truly distinctive regional drinks is a difficult task. Even the broadest generalizations—that cocktails from the East Coast are more spirit-forward while those from the West Coast are more produce-based—have eroded in recent years. Imagine my joy upon discovering a local specialty, largely unheard of anywhere else, in El Paso.
Situated at the westernmost point of Texas, El Paso has a culture that is as much rooted in its sister city, Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande, as with the rest of the state. The Pa-leta Shot is a happy result of this cross-pollination. The drink takes its name from a watermelon-flavored Mexican hard candy that is dusted with chile powder. To many El Pasoans, this candy, referred to as a pa-leta (or “lollipop,” though it also describes a Mexican-style popsicle), was a staple of childhood. Reborn as a spirited dram, served in a glass rimmed with chile-lime salt, and sometimes called a Mexican Candy Shot or a Lollipop Shot, it can now be a staple of adulthood.
Nobody seems to know who made it first, but the shot is popular enough that countless establishments serve their own version. Sour watermelon schnapps is an essential component, as are lime juice and hot sauce. “On the East Side of town, rum is the base and cranberry is a component,” according to Michelle Fierro-Quintero, the owner of the Black Orchid Lounge. “On the West Side, it’s tequila.”
Her West Side bar is focused on the classics, so the Pa-leta shot is made with natural juices in place of artificially flavored schnapps, evidence that even at the shot level, the craft cocktail movement is leaving its mark
1 ounce tequila
1/2 ounce mango juice
1/2 ounce strawberry juice
freshly squeezed lime juice
pinch of salt
Tajin (chile-lime salt), for rim
Combine liquid ingredients plus salt in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice to chill. Strain into two Tajin-rimmed shot glasses.