The flagship of Priciliano Mateo’s burgeoning fruit-fueled empire, which is now four sites strong, is housed in an otherwise-dingy strip mall just outside the Southwestern border of Koreatown. Don’t let the location dissuade you; it’s worth a trip from any corner of the city to experience Mateo’s dazzling use of fresh fruit.
Mateo’s also has locations in Culver City, West Covina and the other end of the Byzantine-Latino Quarter. The shops offer interesting ice creams and sorbets, including Mamey Sapote (mamey), Guayaba (guava) and Guanabana (soursop). There are fresh fruit smoothies and blood-red vegetable juices called Vampiros containing carrots, beets, spinach, celery and more. There are also chocolate covered bananas, plain, coated with ground peanuts or shredded coconut. The Bluths would be proud.
This shelf was hung with whole fresh fruit, including bunches of bananas, pineapples and papayas, all lucky enough to be transformed into smoothies, ice cream and the house specialty – fruity bars.
The hand-painted menu advertises all manner of fruity bar, known in Mateo’s native Mexico as paletas. Each paleta is individually wrapped in a plastic sleeve printed with the flavor’s name. There are also seasonal flavors like black sapote, green cactus and white cactus, which are wrapped in clear sleeves.
This glass-fronted freezer contains stacks of fruity bars. There are normally at least 20 varieties of paletas in stock, both fruit cream (milk-based) and real fruit (ice-based). The “real fruit” contain big chunks of fresh fruit. Some of the more interesting varieties I’ve tried are creamy Leche Quemada (smoked milk) with an icy base of Pitaya (red cactus), Rompope con Pasas (eggnog & raisins), sweet and spicy Mango with Chile, and Yellow Cherry (nance).
On previous visits, I’ve purchased as many as 20 fruity bars ($1.50 apiece), but on this occasion, I limited myself to green pitaya, strawberry, pepino with chili, and guava.
Pepino with Chile was beguiling, a refreshing icy popsicle with chunks of cucumber and a major kick from all the chile powder.
Creamy Strawberry contained whole strawberries, which have a terrific texture when frozen.
Guava featured cuts of the tropical fruit suspended in the ice. It was sweet, but not overly sweet. Mateo doesn’t use a lot of sugar in his paletas. Instead, he relies on the fruits’ natural advantages.
Incredibly, there were three varieties of cactus paletas, one for each color of the Mexican flag. This was green cactus, chock full of nearly impenetrable seeds.
Mateo’s is incredible for a quick, refreshing snack. I hate to throw around the H word, but most of Mateo’s offerings are even healthy. Not that you’ll notice with so much flavor.