If a calorie is a measure of the energy needed to heat stuff up, then do we really want to eat ice cream in the summer? I say no. What we want is ice and frozen fruit. (And sugar.) Luckily, L.A. excels in creating Central American–style frozen treats that happen to not have dairy in them: paletas, raspados, coconadas, etc. (All those can contain dairy, but they're genuinely better when they don't.)
Read on to learn more about these delightful refreshers, and some of the best places to find them around L.A. County.
Mateo's Ice Cream & Fruit Bars
Firstly, let's acknowledge that the right-most paleta in the picture above does indeed contain dairy. It's the scalded-milk flavor. (And it's delightful.) But the most interesting popsicles at Mateo's are the fruit and vegetable varieties, like the triple-threat specials the shop creates, such as guava-passion fruit-watermelon. Another great option is the cucumber with chili: chunks of real cucumber, some with skin on, and some heat provided by Tajin. As long as you're not on a low-sugar diet, you could even call that one healthy. —Katherine Spiers
La Reyna de Michoacan
Not to be confused with La Reina de Michoacan in South Gate, or La Flor de Michoacan in Huntington Park, or La Michoacana in Wilmington, or the other La Michoacana in El Monte. Of all the paleterias bearing the name of the Mexican state, La Reyna de Michoacana in El Monte wears it most proudly. There are close to 50 paleta flavors here, all clean and cool. Still, you won't want to miss the tuna (cactus fruit), like a lightly salted melon, or the jamaica (hibiscus), so red it stains your lips with a tart flowery sugar. They taste like summer love. —Emma Courtland
3560 Santa Anita Ave., El Monte; (626) 444-0073.
Q's Authentic Mexican Shaved Ice
Q's is a funny little place — it seems as though it hasn't gotten around to decorating or even putting up a window yet. The store offers paletas, but those are made off-site, so it's better to go with a raspado, a slushy of sorts available in a number of flavors. The ice is shaved off the block to order and then mixed in a cocktail shaker with the add-ins of your choice. Get the pineapple with chamoy, a pickled fruit–based spicy sauce. It's a mess, and it's memorable. —K.S.
8272 Firestone Blvd., Downey; (562) 659-4861.
Paloma's is expensive. With that said, its product (currently available for parties, and on Saturdays at Lido Marina Village in Newport Beach and on Sundays at downtown's Smorgasburg) is truly excellent. The paletas are good, but now that Paloma's has added sorbet to the menu, it has truly leveled up. The sorbets are available à la carte, but you want to get them in coconada form: Choose three flavors (may I recommend pineapple, watermelon and guava), and have them topped with coconut cream, shredded coconut, a squeeze of lime and a mini lime paleta for whimsy. —K.S.
Various weekend locations and catering. palomaspaletas.com.
When you're ready for the big leagues, bring an ice chest and your Puntos de Partida A-game to Los Alpes in Huntington Park. You'll want to try the elote, in which kernels of corn sit suspended in sweet icy cream. And the horchata, with its plump, soft rice and cinnamon focused at the base. And the custardy mamey, made from the fruit of the mamey sapote, at first yielding and then icy inside. Also the avocado, frijole, pico de gallo, and mole. The selection of flavors can be daunting, yes, but this is why you brought the ice chest. —E.C.
6410 Rugby Ave., Huntington Park; (323) 587-4246.