Ask anyone in Iowa, and they have their favorite Mexican restaurant. It is standard Iowan protocol. Every Iowan can make an argument for their favorite Mexican restaurant, be it they have the best chips and queso or the best margaritas.
What is more surprising and underrated are Mexican dessert places and bakeries, where any Iowan can enjoy a delicious treat to please their sweet tooth.
Of all the Mexican dessert places on this list, Monarca Gourmet Paletas specializes in one item—the paleta—and they are extremely good at making them. Paletas look like a standard ice pop, but the ingredients give them distinct flavors and textures—some have a full strawberry, kiwi slice or Oreo cookie in them. You can choose from 20-22 flavor options. Flavors are rotated throughout the year, depending on the season, so no two experiences will be the same.
At Monarca, paletas can be cream- or water-based and you can customize it in any way possible. You can also put a waffle cone or ice cream sandwich around it and dip it in a variety of chocolate flavors. Then you top it with different toppings.
Despite opening in the thick of the pandemic in August 2020, Monarca has been going strong in central Iowa. Jose Jacome and Fatima Esparza, the husband-and-wife team behind the business, pay homage to her childhood when she made ice cream with her dad. Fatima makes everything from scratch with fresh ingredients using the family recipe. You can read more about them in our previous story.
Bonus: Got a pooch? They recently released paletas specifically made for your dog.
What Sean Got: Oreo paleta covered by a waffle cone smothered in chocolate with an Oreo topping.
This paleta was as chocolatey as one could get. It did not disappoint. The taste buds were hit by the ice-cold Oreo paleta to only be soothed by the chocolate warmed up by the freshly made waffle cone. This cone provided the perfect crispiness crunch to contrast with the softness of the Oreo paleta.
Address: 9901 University Ave. Suite 150, Clive
Lara’s Bakery 3 opened more than 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 the last six years, they took over from their father.
It was hard for Patcy to recommend one specific food since she believes everything is worth trying. If she had to choose, it would be the conchas. This bread looks like a conch, or concha in Spanish, shell. This sweet bread with natural grounded cinnamon is a tasty delight. It comes with a sweet crunchy topping that comes in colors such as white, pink, brown, or yellow.
If that treat does not hit the spot, try the tres leches (three milk) cake. The vanilla bread melt is filled with strawberry flavoring with natural strawberries on top. It hits every sweet craving. They also have flan, a custard dessert, and a variety of Mexican breads and pastries, and turnovers filled with strawberry, pineapple, cherry, green apple, or vanilla. Lastly, they have bolillo and telera, both sour breads.
Visit multiple times because there are many options to choose from.
Address: 701 N. Third Ave. Suite C, Marshalltown
When you walk into La Premium Michoacana in Des Moines, take in the smell of this appetizing locale. This joint opened in January 20021 and has every Mexican dessert food imaginable from ice pops/paletas, ice cream, mangonadas, aguas frescas, chocolate bananas, and other snacks. The desserts are made fresh each day.
Staff recommendation is to try a mangonada or the traditional Mexican drink, aguas frescas, either the horchata or coconut flavor. If you are 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 Paleta
The commoner may mistake it for an ice pop, but this paleta is far above a regular ole ice pop. This delicious treat was thick, thick, thick, but once it touched my tongue, it perfectly melted. This delectable delight had a hint of nuts and will provide the necessary relief on a hot, humid Iowa day.
Address: 1434 Des Moines St. Suite 4, Des Moines
Do you want a delicious mangonada? Magnos Gourmet Paletas in Ankeny is the place to go. Not only are they home to mangonadas, but they also have other desserts like popsicles. They have been in the ice pop business for more than 10 years, and the recipe dates back to owner Gabriel Monzon’s grandmother.
What Sean Got: Mangonada
While ordering a mangonada on a cold, blustery, Iowa winter day is not the best strategy, this slushy-style drink did not disappoint. Yes, it will taste much better on a sweltering summer day next to a creek, river, or lake. This drink has mango Italian ice, mango chunks and slices, Mangos Gourmet Paletas’ signature chamoy sauce decorated with a straw, covered with spicy tamarind. This drink is also 100% all-natural for the healthy-lifestyle fans. This drink had the right amount of sweetness before you get hit by the kick of the chamoy’s sauce saltiness and add in the tamarind for one flavorful drink. The number of flavors packed into this drink is shocking in an effective way.
Address: 2005 SE Delaware Ave. Suite B, Ankeny
While this Eastern Iowa bakery has a variety of food options, you do not want to miss out on the traditional Mexican sweet bread. Acapulco has a plethora of sweet bread options to choose from. If sweet bread does not hit the spot, try their moist tres leches cake. This bakery has two locations. It 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, providing consistency throughout all 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 taken part in the nearby Washington Farmers’ Market since 2012. Her top seller is the aforementioned mangonada. This mango ice cream with fresh mango pieces topped with chamoy and Tajin for a special kick. Gabby ensures every dessert is perfect down to each detail. She also recommends the crazy pineapple. This dessert has a diversity of sweets topped with chamoy sauce and Tajin chili powder. Another delicious treat is the sweet tamarind candy-covered apples. If you want to see the treats with your own eyes, check out A treat from Mexico’s Facebook page.
Address: 216 Main St., Columbus Junction
by Sean Dengler
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