You needn't settle for McDonald's soft serve, a convenience-store slushie or another overplayed frozen yogurt when the sun sizzles and you're nowhere near an air conditioner. Our county has all manners of icy and frozen confections from points south, east and really far east. Herewith is a modest guide to some of the unique, rarely explored ways to chill down and chill out.
HALO-HALO FROM PINOY PAM'S BEST
Halo-halo is Tagalog for “mix-mix,” which is exactly how you eat this quintessential Filipino dessert. It starts with a scoop of ube ice cream, crowning the top of the plastic cup in a purple so deep and villainous it's like a dairy shout-out to the Joker. Whether you eat the purple-yam-flavored ice cream first or you choose to simply stir it into the rest of the mixture is up to you. As you plunge a flimsy, longnecked spoon into the depths of the cup, you'll burrow into a geological strata of colors, churning up treasures. Start mixing, and the distinct layers homogenize into ice soup. As you slurp, a circus of ingredients performs tricks of color and texture: starchy garbanzo beans, supple shreds of young coconut and nata de coco, cubes of coconut gelatin that chew like your inner cheek. The evaporated-milk slurry, now light purple and cooled to a spine-tingling shiver by the chipped ice, brings down the core temperature of your sweaty head like no other. 23635 El Toro Rd., Ste. G, Lake Forest, (949) 454-0412.
PALETAS FROM NEVERÍA LA FLOR DE MEXICO
The proprietor is positively giddy when newbies arrive to try the lovingly homemade Mexican popsicles called paletas. She doesn't mind when these customers ask for a translation of every flavor or what a foreign-sounding fruit will taste like. And if you're new, you'll need her guidance to navigate through all of the varieties. She bests Baskin-Robbins by at least 10 flavors, all of them unlabeled, stacked and uncategorized in a waist-high freezer. A fruit called guanabana in the Americas and soursop elsewhere puckers the mouth with a thrilling tang. A pop dubbed pico de gallo eats like frozen spicy gazpacho on a stick. Strawberry comes in at least three permutations, one mixed with creamy vanilla and others with just the fruit itself. Her rompope has an eggnog richness, and the watermelon is a sweet evocation of the fruit as only a handcrafted creation such as this can achieve. If you're going to take a few home—and you will—she'll pack some ice in the bag so the paletas don't melt during your journey. Next time, bring a cooler. 7151 Katella Ave., Stanton, (714) 761-2813.
PATBINGSU FROM PARIS BAGUETTE
Since there are few, if any, shops dedicated to serving patbingsu in OC, you must seek out this Korean shaved-ice dessert from select frozen-yogurt stores—or better yet, visit Paris Baguette. The French-themed bakery in the heart of Little Seoul makes its employees wear berets and unflattering, horizontal-striped shirts, but the patbingsu is distinctly Korean. A fruity one is embellished with strawberries and kiwi, but the better specimen is the green-tea version, in which matcha powder thoroughly tints the pulverized ice into a Hulk green. A treacly sweetness comes from the ingredients ladled and drizzled on top. Long-simmered azuki beans give the dessert its traditional bent and part of its name. Waxy cubes of tteok, the Korean version of mochi, bring chewiness, while a squirt of condensed milk softens the tannic notes. But it's the contrast of sweet and bitter between the beans and the tea that invigorates as much as it feeds like a meal. 8899 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 537-0404.
SHAVE ICE FROM TROPICAL SHAVE ICE TRUCK
The Tropical Shave Ice Truck does shave ice better than most purveyors in Hawaii, brick-and-mortar or otherwise. This is the shave ice that could satiate Pele (the Hawaiian goddess of fire and the soccer legend), milled to fluff as fine and soft as new snow. You don't scoop it out; you let it float into your mouth, where it melts on contact. If you find the truck parked at a particularly busy gathering, be mindful that the tropical-fruit syrups run out the quickest, the lilikoi and the coconut being the most sought-after. Three flavors are included in every order, but there's finally some good news for Charlie Sheen: Its so-called Tiger's Blood, a mixture of strawberry and coconut, counts as one. A nominal fee is levied to add vanilla ice cream to the bottom of the cup or azuki to the top. Get them both; it's cheaper than a Hawaiian vacation. Check twitter.com/tropshaveice and tropicalshaveice.com for locations and times.
ICE CREAM FROM STRICKLAND'S
The most endearing thing about this sole California franchise of the Ohio-based chain isn't the gleaming machines that produce the smoothest ice cream you'll ever spoon up; rather, it's the ever-rotating flavors. A visit made when a new flavor is introduced feels like an event, and the best are those that rarely see supermarket shelves. The mango, grape and lychee varieties are wonderful; the taro comforts like a cross between candied yams and Ovaltine; and if given a chance, the green tea could displace the established Japanese store brands as the new benchmark for the flavor. Forget about taking any home in the prepacked cartons: The dense, high-butterfat characteristics of the confection harden them into blocks. This is ice cream you want to enjoy fresh from the churn, scooped into a cup or a cone in sharp, pointy peaks. 4523 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 387-9955; mystricklands.com.
JOE-LATTI FROM JOE'S ITALIAN ICE
Joe's sits in a lonely hut on its own tiny lot, along a dark stretch of road just outside the border of Disneyland's tourist enclave. In the night, the luminous stand looks like something straight out of an Edward Hopper painting, a refuge for the desolate. Its specialty is authentic Philly-style water ice in permutations too numerous to recount but include those named Razzamatazz and Bananadana. Made in the store with fruit and just the right dosage of sugar and food coloring, the best way to consume it is as a Joe-Latti. A waxed-paper cup is filled by teenage employees with the Italian ice of your choosing, then topped with a dollop of a rich, soft-serve vanilla ice cream of an ultra-dense, calorically concentrated East Coast character. Unfortunately, city officials recently announced they are going ahead with plans to relocate Joe's to make way for another hotel complex, so get the full experience while you can: This may be the last summer it'll be at its current home. 12302 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 750-1076; joesice.com.
SNOW ICE FROM THE BALCONY GRILL & BAR
A common misconception is that snow ice is the same as shave ice. It isn't. Snow ice starts as a block of frozen milk; it's then milled to ribbons at once fluffy, airy and absent ice's granular crunch. The beloved Taiwanese invention forms a soft landing for a myriad of sugary beans, peanuts, fudge and fruit. In Balcony Grill & Bar's rendition, the flavor comes when these ingredients are piled on in vast quantities to form a mountain of a dessert designed for sharing. Sherpas are not required, but as your mouth numbs from the coldness, frostbite isn't farfetched. 2710 Alton Pkwy., Ste. 215, Irvine, (949) 387-0888; thebalconygrill.com.
This article appeared in print as “A Treatise On Icy Treats: Where to go this summer for frozen fun you can eat.”
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.