The jingle of the handlebar bell on a paletero’s pushcart is gentle. But the ring is loud enough to send kids rushing from their homes, parents in reluctant tow, begging for a flavored Mexican popsicle. Maybe it’s a sweet, pale pink strawberry treat with a tart finish. Maybe it’s the lickable air-conditioning of a watermelon paleta. Maybe it’s cookies and cream, with two whole Oreos locked in the frozen treat on a stick. The soft-spoken gentlemen who push the carts—paleteros are usually male—often traverse a set daily path through a neighborhood for most of the year in Texas. Some are fortunate enough to do so in the shade of an umbrella attached to their cart or seat. The luckiest paleteros have a regular spot next to a highly trafficked building, be it a school or a supermarket. Outside the latter, specifically the Carniceria Mi Pueblo in south Fort Worth, is where Alma’s Paleteria got its start.
Owner José Ponce says the success of his family’s business was part of a series of fortunate events. “It was actually my mom’s cousin that owned the carniceria,” he explains. “They were doing great already and they gave us a spot.” But it takes more than a lucky streak to have the kind of long-term success that Alma’s Paleteria, which is named for Ponce’s mother, has experienced over its nearly seventeen years in business. Ponce says that in 2002, when his parents launched the operation, there weren’t any nearby businesses serving raspados (Mexican shaved ice concoctions) with fresh, natural fruit bases and reductions. Betting that customers would choose the good stuff over artificial syrups, they started with raspados and then expanded to paletas. “We knew there was going to be a market,” Ponce says. The demand was so high, he claims, that he and his parents had a hard time keeping their cooler stocked. “We kept buying more ice and more ice and more ice.” Moving on up from their cart, Alma’s expanded in 2009 by renting a dedicated storefront in the same shopping center as the carniceria.
The family had established the business as a matter of practicality. Ponce’s father, Antonio, already had paleta experience in his native Teocaltiche, in the Mexican state of Jalisco, where he had managed two shops for his brother. He and Ponce’s mother later moved to Sonora, Mexico, where they opened and managed another paleteria. In Fort Worth, making and selling raspados was a second job to supplement the income Antonio and Alma brought in with their work as a carpenter and seamstress. “They needed to make a little bit more money just to give us a little bit better things,” Ponce says. Seeing his parents grow the shop inspired Ponce to attend culinary school and take over the business. “I was in awe on the first day that my dad cranked up the paleta machine, the first day we opened,” he says. “Finally, I tried my first fresh paleta, and it was delicious. I knew we had something good.” Seventeen years later, even with a limited capacity and a strict to-go-only policy to fight COVID-19, Alma’s had a steady stream of customers on my two recent visits.
Paletas aren’t usually my favorite—I’m more of an ice cream guy. There’s nothing better on a hot day than a scoop of guava ice cream with real chopped guava, paired with avocado ice cream that is then dusted with Tajín seasoning. Lately, though, I’ve been reaching more often for paletas, mostly at my son’s insistence. At eleven years old, he’s squarely in the target Mexican snack bracket. Ponce describes the appeal in simple but comforting terms: “A paleta is frozen Mexican ice cream on a stick. But I’d be lying if it was just that. It’s so much more than that. It’s just a lot of love and happiness.”
In the case of Alma’s chocolate-dipped, shaved-coconut-garnished pecan paleta, as well as the spiced Abuelita hot chocolate flavor, I’m a convert. Ponce says the latter was inspired by the popular Serendipity sweets shop in New York City. His formal training has led to creative specials so popular that Alma’s now sells them year-round. In addition to the Abuelita flavor, these customer favorites include a paleta of cajeta (caramelized goat’s milk) with a strip of membrillo (quince) paste in the center.
One of Alma’s most popular paletas is the fresas con crema (strawberries and cream), a sweet and cooling treat. Not as exciting was the tart and fiery mango chile. It was simply too watery. Ponce said it’s been another customer favorite this year, as have the piña loca (pineapple with chile powder) and limón con chile (lime with chile powder). “We’re squeezing tons and tons of fresh lime juice every day to keep up with demand,” he says. Even with the arrival of September, the crowds haven’t abated much. Once winter sets in, tortas are the big seller.
Another standout was the horchata paleta, a delightful solid version of the classic cinnamon, rice, and milk drink. It made up for the underwhelming mango con chile, as did the elote paleta. Instead of being studded with faded yellow kernels of corn, as is typical, it has the corn blended into the frozen mix. The finished product has an icy buttery color with a sweet, verdant flavor. Ask for it along with a chocolate-dipped paleta.
Although Alma’s Paleteria does serve several ice cream flavors and other snacks, the store is a popsicle shop above all else. So, first, paletas—for everyone. “You can’t beat it during the summer,” Ponce says. He’s right, and don’t let the brief cool snap predicted for next weekend fool you: it’s still paleta season in Texas.
1215 E. Seminary Drive, Fort Worth
Hours: Monday–Friday 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.