WHEN 17-YEAR-OLD CLAUDIUS DIPO ALAM came to the U.S. from Indonesia as a professional soccer player, he had no clue what a paleta was. But a decade or so later, he couldn’t get enough of the Mexican ice pops at La Michoacana de Paquime dessert shop, in Albuquerque. The treats helped him dream up the Paleta Bar, a place where the traditional cream- or water-based frozen treats could be freshly made and cross-culturally customized. Whether chocolate-dipped, nut-crusted, syrup-drizzled, chile-powdered, fruit-topped, or all of the above, his creations would require the freshest ingredients, and inventive flavors to satisfy customers’ savvy tastes.
In 2017, Alam partnered with Juan Carlos Estala and Joel Marquez, whose parents own La Michoacana, to open the first Paleta Bar on San Pedro Drive. Two more Albuquerque locations followed within a year, all with nearly 20 house-made paletas, an array of toppings, fruit cups, and aguas frescas (fresh juices). Alam even rolled a carne seca business into the franchise, serving savory Mexican snacks like Dori-nachos and elote alongside bags of beef jerky flavored with red and green chile. After a viral video showing its mango-chamoy-Tajín smoothie racked up more than 18 million views, the Paleta Bar entered an era of warp-speed expansion.
“During Covid was our breakthrough,” says Alam, who has now opened more than 30 Paleta Bars, scattered across the Southwest and in Florida. “We want to be all over the United States.” That geographic diversity has led to increasingly creative culinary choices. At the company’s Las Vegas outpost, in Sin City’s Chinatown, Alam says the menu includes lychee, dragon fruit, and even durian paletas.
At least a third of his Paleta Bars are in the Albuquerque area, and he stresses the company’s loyalty to its New Mexico fans. Paleta Bar packaging is proudly covered in red and yellow Zia symbols, and the company partners with organizations such as the University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital and New Mexico United. Look for a new Paleta Bar in Roswell this month and others, possibly soon, in Farmington and Gallup.
Try these other paleta hot spots.
Carmen Medrano fondly remembers childhood visits to her parents’ hometown in the state of Durango, Mexico, where her father would hoist her onto his shoulders and buy her a paleta from the local cart. “He didn’t care if I dripped paleta on his head,” Medrano says. “That was our time we’d spend together.” Now, outside Taos’s John Dunn Shops every summer, Medrano dishes out new ice cream memories at her Loteria Paleteria cart. Whenever possible, the paletas are made from fresh produce and herbs grown by local farmers. Try this: “The Mango-Jalapeño is my ode to New Mexico, spicy and sweet,” says Medrano. On Instagram @loteriapaleteria
SkyFire at Bishop’s Lodge
The barely year-old SkyFire restaurant, at Santa Fe’s Bishop’s Lodge, has a paleta professional in the form of Executive Chef Pablo Peñalosa. He spent many family weekends enjoying the paleteros of Mexico City. “We’re excited to play around with all the ingredients and techniques in New Mexico,” he says. Using local nuts like piñon and pistachio, Peñalosa serves high-end dessert paletas at SkyFire and from a cart stationed at the Bishop’s Lodge pool. Try this: “I just did a vanilla-and-taro paleta,” the chef says. “But the flavors will change by the season.”