In an effort to de-stress from the rigors of large-scale ice cream making, the Espinoza family sold their Paleteria Azteca in South El Monte three years ago and put all their knowledge into a neighborhood shop in Long Beach, which specializes in rare and exotic house-made sorbets using fresh, often local produce.
Their variation on the mangoneada — a popular Mexican dessert traditionally made with shaved ice blended with fresh mangoes, topped with a tamarind-based chamoy sauce and a zing of chili powder — substitutes in-house sorbets for the shaved ice, a simple and delicious innovation. Mangoneadas may be found in shops and on carts across L.A., but few, if any, are made as the Espinozas do it.
Several local couples have dug Guanabana's mangoneadas so much, in fact, that they served them in lieu of a wedding cake.
Gabriel Espinoza, the youngest family member in the shop, says folks from Long Beach's Latino and Filipino communities, as well as harbor workers and food explorers from all over the L.A. basin, make the trek to Guanabana to eat from a 16-flavor menu, which includes unconventional flavors such as alfalfa (surprisingly refreshing), maracuya (passion fruit), lucuma (a Peruvian fruit that tastes like sweet potato with a touch of maple) and the prickly, green guanabana from which the store gets its name (the fruit's flavor is reminiscent of strawberry, pineapple and citrus).
"Not many shops carry the flavors we have," says Gabriel, a keen observer of the L.A. ice cream scene. "I always encourage people to get out of their comfort zone."
After decades in the business, the Espinoza philosophy is to rely less on sugar and more on letting the fruit flavors shine. Gabriel's father, Salvador, keeps the back-room ice cream and sorbet mini-factory stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, and makes frequent early-morning trips to the L.A. Produce Mart. Only the guanabana is bought in pulp form by the shop.
When Guanabana opened, it was strictly an ice cream and sorbet shop, but the menu has evolved. In addition to the mangoneada, the Espinozas added bionicos — a fresh fruit, granola and cream dish that originated in the '90s on the streets of Jalisco, Mexico, where Gabriel's father, Salvador, was born — as well as fresh juices such as the jugo verde, a blend of green apple, pineapple, spinach, cucumber and celery.
At the end of 2014, the Espinozas also added to their growing menu the Tostiloco: a Tijuana street snack that consists of a bag of Tostitos opened length-wise and filled with pork rinds, lemon chilis, jicama, cucumber and Japanese peanuts.
After years of behind-the-scenes toiling in the Azteca factory, where the Espinozas made and distributed ice cream bars and bolis (ice cream bags), Salvador and the rest of his family were happy to simplify their business and meet their customers face to face.
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"Seeing the smiles from people who come from all over town makes us feel good," Salvador says.
Guanabana, 2410 Santa Fe Ave., Long Beach; (323) 861-9576