For some people, “dessert taco” might summon visions of U-shaped waffle shells crammed with scoops of ice cream and sprinkled with crazy toppings like gummy worms or cookie crumbles. Their popularity has ramrodded these concoctions into the taco canon, although they aren’t real tacos because they don’t use tortillas. So what is a legitimate dessert taco? I’ve written about the stunning flan taco that I enjoyed at a pop-up at José, in Dallas. The chefs at Comedor, in Austin, have toyed with dessert tacos on the restaurant’s ever-changing happy-hour taco tasting menu. El Santuario, in the Rio Grande Valley, offers a real ice cream taco in a fried chocolate-infused tortilla. But it’s Tarascos Ice Cream, in Houston, that is making perhaps the most unique and exciting dessert taco platter in Texas.
How I came across these fruit tacos was a matter of chance rooted in routine. While on extended taco tours, I prefer to rest and reset my palate with freshly made Mexican ice cream. Nothing beats taco fatigue like spoonfuls of mango ice cream studded with cubes of real fruit. The initial wallop of such a refreshing flavor followed by its quick diffusion do the trick every time. Avocado ice cream sprinkled with Tajín is another favorite. While on my last trip to Houston and eager for a palate cleanser, I searched online for an ice cream shop. Tarascos was attractive because of its name (I had visited Michoacán, home to the indigenous Tarasco people, two months earlier) and saw photos of concha ice cream sandwiches, alongside tubs of ice creams like pistachio, tres leches, and coconut, as well as a freezer filled with columns of paletas—Mexican popsicles—in flavors like cucumber-chile, Oreo, and strawberry, and so much more.
When I arrived at the shop, it was out of concha ice cream sandwiches, but I noticed fruit tacos on the menu and immediately asked about them. They were out of those too. I went for the relief of a scoop of raspberry cheesecake and decided to return the next afternoon. When I did, I arrived just after it opened and not only snagged fruit tacos but also met owner Sergio Ruiz, a native of Michoacán, who is not Tarascan but who wanted to pay homage to the pre-Hispanic roots of his home state. He started in 2005 as a chocolate fountain business for weddings and special occasions, and then about four years ago, expanded his offerings to include miniature paletas; he was later encouraged by family members to open a Mexican-style ice cream parlor with equipment imported from Mexico. Tarascos, on Westheimer Road in west Houston, offers imaginative flavors of ice cream and paletas, all of which are made by Ruiz’s father, Chris. “He has all these recipes and has showed me some of them,” Ruiz says laughing. There are also creative dishes utilizing the arsenal of Mexican candies and snacks—combining sweet, hot, and savory elements. A second store, on Jones Road in northwest Houston, is in its soft-opening phase. A grand opening is in the works.
Tarascos’s fruit tacos are a snack not often seen outside of Mexico, Ruiz tells me. The treats start with the sticky, sugar-coated Morelianas tamarind tortillas. The maroon-hued discs, which are imported from Morelia-based sweets company La Orquídea Patyleta, are the foundation for chunks of mango, pineapple, and cucumber as well as julienned jicama and plump Japanese peanuts. Drizzles of spicy-sour chamoy syrup, a flick of Tajín, and a lime wedge complete the dish. (A note about the peanuts: they weren’t invented in Japan. Rather, they were a creation of a Japanese immigrant to Mexico who, in the forties, coated the legumes in flour, fried them to create a crunchy outer shell, and then added soy sauce to the mixture.) The result of this tropical combination is a series of fresh pops and punches of heat, sweetness, tartness, and juxtaposing textures. The fruit tacos won’t cleanse your palate, which is okay. That’s what the bounty of ice cream and paleta options are for.
Tarascos Ice Cream
13932 Westheimer Road, Houston
Hours: Sun-Thu noon to 9:30 p.m., Fri-Sat noon to 10 p.m.