I eat a lot of ice cream. Consuming it is how I reset my palate between long stretches of eating tacos. Sometimes I’ll even visit an ice cream parlor (maybe the same one) twice in one day. On a recent trip to South Texas, the frozen treat was critical in the sweltering summer heat. Finding great ice cream in Laredo, though, has long been difficult. But my unlucky streak ended at Chopchop Laredo Style Rolled Ice Cream, a strip-mall joint.
Opened in fall 2018 by Angel Mata and co-owned with Rafael Valle, Chopchop provides a South Texas spin on Thai rolled ice cream. The Southeast Asian original, sometimes called stir-fried ice cream, begins with a milk base poured on a below-freezing metal flattop. Next, creative ingredients, such as plops of Nutella or cookie crumbs, are placed atop the base. Using metal spatulas, the chef quickly chops and blends the mix-ins into the partially frozen base. With plenty of physical theatrics, he or she works the mixture into a thin sheet of frozen ice cream that is then scraped and pushed into colorful, spectacular rolls. It all gets topped with a plethora of options: whipped cream, fresh fruit, and chocolate syrup are popular choices.
At Chopchop, these flavors are adapted for a predominantly Latino clientele. The base is sweeter, made from liquid vanilla ice cream instead of the plain milk used in the Thai version. The other ingredients cater to local tastes, too. One rolled ice cream order is topped with a Gansito bar, a chocolate-coated, chocolate-sprinkled rectangular cake filled with cream and a strawberry-flavored jam. It’s a perennial Mexican snack akin to the Twinkie. Then there’s the Cookie Monster roll, a popular choice among the toddler set; it contains a cookie, whipped cream, and rolled ice cream dyed blue to evoke the Sesame Street character. Two other frozen rolls incorporate treats that are popular with Mexicans and Mexican Americans: Ferrero Rocher, topped with the Italian chocolate-hazelnut bonbons, and Tres Leches, inspired by the classic sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. Everything on the menu is a Mexican frozen-treat classic, with Ferrero Rocher and Banana Nutella as the perennial bestsellers.
Chopchop’s origin story starts at a Los Angeles tech conference in 2017. Mata was there to represent his electronics repair company, Mobile Addiction, but he ended up having an ice cream epiphany instead. While scrolling on social media, looking for a local spot to try, he kept coming across photos from rolled ice cream shops, which were starting to trend at the time. He saw familiar Asian flavors, including taro and matcha, and figured he could adapt the format to his hometown. “Who doesn’t like ice cream?” he remembers asking himself. “Who wouldn’t love to have some Gansito flavor, some mazapan [marzipan] flavor?” Indeed, the breadth of Mexican ice cream and its sidekick, paletas, is expansive. The treats can be found in flavors ranging from cotija cheese and coconut to guava and the ever-popular Ferrero Rocher.
Upon his return to Laredo, Mata bought a rolled ice cream setup and began to experiment. Ten months later, he decided to open the first Latino-targeted rolled ice cream joint in town. He chose the name Chopchop, because he wanted something that both evoked the sound of the ice cream’s preparation and expressed the concept simply enough that a toddler could pronounce it. “A two-year-old is my boss,” he laughs.
Next, Mata settled on six flavors, leased the location on McPherson Road, and posted a photo announcement on Facebook that Chopchop would be open from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on its first day. At first, the customers trickled in sporadically. Then came the rush. He had only budgeted for thirty to forty cups at fifty percent off for four hours. Mata and his three employees ended up selling seventy by 7 p.m. Customers waited up to ninety minutes in line, but they didn’t seem to mind. “We had people waiting in their cars, and we were nonstop. At one point I was looking at my team and honestly just waiting for them to walk out,” Mata says. The team sold 167 cups of ice cream that first night.
The initial rush was followed by steady growth. In 2020, Valle, 38, who hails from Monterrey, Mexico, came on as co-owner; he manages operations behind the scenes. Valle and his wife, a nurse, chose to invest in Chopchop instead of buying a home. Luckily, their bet paid off.
I don’t know how I missed Chopchop during a 2019 Christmastime visit to Laredo. My Google search for ice cream didn’t turn up the parlor in the results, though Mata and Valle say Google searches are the main driver of new customer sales. But a stop at Chopchop was the loveliest way to cap a recent visit to the border city. The shop has at least twelve flavors available daily. They can be ordered in a soft bubble waffle wrap (sometimes called a bowl), a cup, or a waffle taco shell. Twenty topping options, such as rainbow sprinkles, crushed Ferrero Rocher, Lucky Charms, and candied nuts, are also available. I sampled three flavors.
First, though, I enjoyed the show of the vanilla ice cream poured on the frigid metal surface and spread out with sharp spatulas. I watched in awe as candy was dropped on the ice cream and chopped in a rapid-fire bap, bap, bap, before being swiped back and forth with a painter’s precision. Much of the time the filling is so evenly spread that it speckles the rolls.
The Gansito contains deep pink curled cylinders, with a sweetness balanced by the slightly bitter chocolate infusion, topped with a Gansito bar. Next was the Strawberry Wafer in the bubble waffle wrap with triangles of strawberries, a deep strawberry drizzle, and a liberal squirt of whipped cream. Finally, I relished the stacked spirals of tres leches ice cream in a black waffle taco shell. The rolled, pale filling, one of Valle’s additions to the menu, was lined with whipped cream, laced with caramel, and garnished with sugary chopped nuts. It was joyous and messy to eat, with the constant cracking of its wafer-thin shell.
In the pantheon of dessert tacos, the waffle-shell variety is the most tenuous inclusion. Cooked and folded thin waffle batter does not a tortilla make. Yet the style has rooted itself into the taco canon by virtue of sheer popularity, mostly as a vehicle for rolled ice cream. When I asked Mata and Valle about the dubious categorization of the waffle-shell ice cream taco as a legitimate taco, there was a long pause. Valle looked away from the web camera, while Mata sighed and admitted it was iffy. Semantic quibbles aside, one thing is clear: Laredoans love this type of dessert taco, and all the other creative treats at Chopchop. Mata and Valle want to be on the cutting edge of rolled ice cream and offer something Laredo can be proud of. I think they’re doing just that.