Ask anyone in Iowa, and they have their favorite Mexican restaurant. It’s standard Iowan protocol. Every Iowan can claim their favorite Mexican restaurant, whether it’s the best fries and queso or the best margaritas.
What’s more surprising and underrated are Mexican desserts and bakeries, where any Iowan can enjoy a delicious treat to please their sweet tooth.
Of all the Mexican desserts on this list, Monarca Gourmet Paletas specializes in just one item – the paleta – and they are extremely good at making them. Paletas look like standard popsicles, but the ingredients give them distinct flavors and textures – some contain a whole strawberry, a slice of kiwi, or an Oreo cookie. You can choose between 20 and 22 flavors. Flavors are alternated throughout the year, depending on the season, so no two experiences are the same.
At Monarca, paletas can be cream or water based and you can customize them in any way you can. You can also put a waffle cone or an ice cream sandwich around it and dip it in a variety of chocolate flavors. Then you top it with different toppings.
Despite opening amid the pandemic in August 2020, Monarca is doing well in central Iowa. Jose Jacome and Fatima Esparza, the husband and wife team behind the company, pay homage to her childhood when she made ice cream with her father. Fatima makes everything from scratch with fresh ingredients using the family recipe. You can read more about them in our previous story.
Premium: You have a dog? They recently released paletas specially designed for your dog.
What Sean got: Paleta Oreo covered in a chocolate covered waffle cone with an Oreo filling.
This paleta was as chocolaty as it gets. He did not disappoint. Taste buds were struck by the frozen paleta of Oreo only to be soothed by the chocolate warmed by the freshly baked waffle cone. This cone provided the perfect crisp to contrast the softness of the paleta Oreo.
Address: 9901 University Avenue, Suite 150, Clive
Lara’s Bakery 3 opened its doors over 20 years ago in Marshalltown, and this second-generation family business offers a variety of desserts. Owned and operated by sisters Patcy Castillo and Gabriella Cano for six years, they succeeded their father.
It was difficult for Patcy to recommend a specific food because she thinks everything is worth trying. If she had to choose, it would be the conchas. This bread looks like a conch, or concha in Spanish, seashell. This sweet bread with natural ground cinnamon is a savory delight. It comes with a sweet crisp filling that comes in colors such as white, pink, brown, or yellow.
If this sweet treat isn’t your thing, try the tres leches (three milks) cake. Vanilla Melt Bread is packed with strawberry flavor with natural strawberries on top. It satisfies all sweet cravings. They also have flan, cream dessert and a variety of Mexican breads and pastries, as well as strawberry, pineapple, cherry, green apple or vanilla filled turnovers. Finally, they have bolillo and telera, the two sour breads.
Visit multiple times as there are plenty of options to choose from.
Address: 701 N.Third Ave. Suite C, Marshalltown
As you enter La Premium Michoacana in Des Moines, breathe in the scent of this mouth-watering venue. This joint opened in January 20021 and offers every Mexican dessert imaginable, popsicles/paddles, ice cream, mangonadas, aguas frescas, chocolate bananas and other snacks. The desserts are fresh every day.
The staff recommendation is to try a mangonada or the traditional Mexican drink, aguas frescas, either horchata or coconut flavor. If you’re feeling fun, get the agua loca, which is like an aguas frescas but with lime or mango ice cream and a few other ingredients including a chamoy/Tajin rim and fruit.
What Sean got: Mazapan Palette
The commoner may mistake it for an ice cream, but this paleta is way above an ordinary ice cream. This delicious treat was thick, thick, thick, but once it hit my tongue, it melted perfectly. This delicious treat had a hint of nuts and will provide much needed relief on a hot, humid day in Iowa.
Address: 1434 Des Moines St. Suite 4, Des Moines
Want a delicious mangonada? Magnos Gourmet Paletas in Ankeny is the place to go. Not only do they house mangonadas, but they also have other desserts like popsicles. They’ve been in the popsicle business for over 10 years and the recipe goes back to owner Gabriel Monzon’s grandmother.
What Sean got: Mangonada
While ordering a mangonada on a cold, windy winter day in Iowa isn’t the best strategy, this granita-style drink didn’t disappoint. Yes, it will taste much better on a sweltering summer day next to a stream, river or lake. This drink features Italian mango ice cream, mango chunks and slices, Mangos Gourmet Paletas signature chamoy sauce decorated with a straw, topped with spicy tamarind. This drink is also 100% natural for fans of a healthy lifestyle. This drink had the right amount of sweetness before being hit with the salt kick of the chamoy sauce and adding the tamarind for a flavorful drink. The number of flavors contained in this drink is shockingly effective.
Address: 2005 SE Delaware Ave. Suite B, Ankeny
Although this eastern Iowa bakery offers a variety of food options, you don’t want to miss the traditional Mexican sweet bread. Acapulco offers a plethora of sweet bread options. If sweet bread isn’t your thing, try their moist tres leches cake. This bakery has two locations. He started in 2009 in West Liberty before adding a second location in Iowa City in 2011. The main baker grew up in the small Mexican town of Tarandacuao. He has been with the bakery for its entire existence, ensuring consistency over the years.
Address: 1937 Keokuk St., Iowa City and 311 N. Calhoun St., West Liberty
Located in the small town of Columbus Junction, owner Gabby Palacios opened A Treat from Mexico in September 2021. She had been attending the nearby Washington Farmers’ Market since 2012. Her top seller is the aforementioned mangonada. This mango ice cream with chunks of fresh mango topped with chamoy and tajin for a special kick. Gabby makes sure every dessert is perfect down to the smallest detail. She also recommends Crazy Pineapple. This dessert offers a variety of sweets topped with chamoy sauce and Tajin chili powder. Apples covered in tamarind candies are another delicious treat. If you want to see the treats with your own eyes, check out A Treat From Mexico Facebook page.
Address: 216 Main Street, Columbus Junction
by Sean Dengler
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