Greeted by the syncopation of spoken Spanish, brilliant pink colors accompanied by muted orange and cream tile work and a menu written in Spanish, stepping into La Michoacana El Oasis at 2980 Main Ave. is like stepping into Mexico itself.
The paletería, or ice cream and snack shop, opened with a New Year’s Eve celebration by wife and husband Yadira “Lupe” Torres and Orlando Villagrana, alongside Torres’ sister and business partner, Edith Torres.
La Michoacana is based on the traditional paleterías of Mexico and serves freshly made “paletas” (fruit bars) that are either water- or cream-based and range in flavor from mango-chile and strawberries and cream to classics like mango and coconut. Also made daily are “nieve de garrafa,” or homemade ice cream, “postres” (desserts) and a unique variety of “antojitos” (snacks) that feature a mixture of salt, spice and tangy flavors.
“There are a lot of Latin and Mexican flavors,” Lupe Torres said. “But we tend to stick to traditional flavors. Beso de Ángel is a traditional Mexican paleta that uses Mexican crème cookies, Suavicremas, in the middle. Our most unique flavor is the mango with chile and we are sold out of it – it’s been really popular.”
Customer Chiara Amoroso was enthusiastic about the quality and handmade aspect of the fruit bars and ice cream. “We were surprised at the generous portions and that everything is made by hand,” Amoroso said. “They were even open to menu suggestions to accommodate me since I am lactose intolerant.”
Another favorite is the antojito Takis Locos that feature Takis brand chips, mango, peanuts, cucumber, jicama, chamoy and lime. “Think Frito Pie but with a twist; we add a lot of lime and spice for a whole new flavor,” laughs Lupe Torres. “I think that a lot of the Hispanic community really like them because it reminds them of being home,” she says.
Lupe Torres, her husband, Orlando, and her sister, Edith, all spent most of their childhoods growing up in Mexico. After nearly 14 years in Durango, Torres decided that it was time to open her own paletería. She traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico, to learn the craft of making paletas and nieves de garrafa and also to purchase the necessary equipment required to form the frozen fruit bars and churn ice cream.
Traditionally, paleterías are family owned and have developed a heritage of recipes based on geographic region and availability of fruits and vegetables. The knowledge of the paletero, then, is handed down to each successive generation, creating a legacy each their own. Some say the family business model and name La Michoacana stem from two men, Augustín Andrade and Ignacio Alcázar, from the state of Micoacán, Mexico. Legend has it that in the 1940s, they learned the craft of making paletas and ice cream in Mexico City. Upon returning home, the men passed on their craft knowledge to relatives who later went on to open their own paleterías.
For Torres and her family, being a paletera is a new business venture that she hopes will one day become a family tradition. For now, her son Orlando Jr. and her niece Samantha help behind the counter and in the back shop when they are not in school. “We want them to work here with the family so that they can learn work ethic, about money and someday, if they want to run the shop, it will be theirs,” Torres says.
La Michoacana El Oasis is just that, an oasis in the Desert Southwest that has endeared much of the community for its traditional Mexican fare reminiscent of childhood home. For many others, it is a new opportunity to venture into a unique Mexican and Latin American cuisine.