Battle of the Raspados
Raspados are basically Mexican snow cones, but they're better than their US counterparts because real fruit juice is drizzled on top of the ice, instead of the sugary syrup most of us are used to. This gives you the feeling that what you're eating is vaguely healthy.
In One Corner: Realeza Michoacana
2520 N. 16th St.
Realeza Michoacana is a brightly painted joint on 16th Street with all the cold sweets you could imagine. There are seven raspado flavors: tamarind, plum, pineapple, coconut, mango, vanilla and strawberry. They cost $3.50 each.
"I love tamarind," says my dining companion, a raspado afficionado. "It's a sweet and sour taste."
I brought her along to this Battle of the Dishes in part because she's fluent in Spanish, which is helpful because the woman behind the raspado counter is friendly and chatty, but doesn't speak English. We order two raspados, one with pineapple and coconut and the other with tamarind and mango.
The pineapple isn't just pineapple juice, but whole crushed pineapple. And the coconut is a blend of shaved coconut and real coconut milk. Each bite tastes like the best crunchy virgin pina colada you've ever tasted.
"It gives you something to sink your teeth into," my friend adds. "It's so interesting because it's not that sweet."
In the Other Corner: La Reina Michoacana
2601 N 32nd St
Telenovelas are blaring on the TV at La Reina Michoacana. It's so loud here we can barely hear each other over the melodrama.
This sweets shop offers the same basic line-up of flavors, minus the tamarind. We order mango and coconut, and strawberry and coconut. The raspados cost a quarter more.
"Here I get chunks of mango" my friend says. "At the other place it was a mango puree."
The chunks do taste better, but it's not enough to mask the fact that the ice had been shaved long ago, and when shaved ice sits around, it melts and reforms as heavy chunks. The top of the raspado is a slushy mess, and the bottom is an impenetrable block. In addition, the coconut seems a little watered down and isn't anywhere near as creamy.
"I like the environment at the other place better," she says, "because they don't have telenovelas blaring."
We have to take our raspados outside in order to be able to chat over the din of the TV. We finish them while sitting on the grass at the park across the street.
The Verdict: Realeza Michoacana