Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
Tacos los Plebes
I SCREAM FOR: In a town as relatively compact as Athens, it’s hard to find things that are really worth driving for, and the longer you live here, the smaller your radius of travel can grow. When I tell you that the ice cream at La Michoacana (1635 Glenn Carrie Road, 706-521-8008) is worth a haul, believe me that it is.
Built onto a gas station at the corner of Glenn Carrie and U.S. 29 North, the store opened in December and is large and bright, with a few tables outside and many more inside. Whether or not it’s part of an official franchise is a complicated story that gets into international trademark law, but the tl;dr is that it is essentially the Baskin Robbins of Mexico, with as many as 15,000 locations there, only its ice cream and paletas are made fresh in the store.
Somewhere around 28 flavors of ice cream and sorbets are available daily, from standards (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry) to kid favorites (a bright blue-and-pink-swirled bubblegum flavor that is tooth-punchingly sweet yet still manages to taste like actual bubblegum) to chamoy (a sort of fruit-based hot sauce) and guava. Get a scoop of lime and a scoop of tequila, and you will be transported mentally to the beach. The ice cream is incredibly smooth, rich without being too fatty, soft but not drippy. There is nothing like it anywhere else in Athens. The store also makes its own waffle cones, and you can get a milkshake, a banana split, a smoothie or even a frappuccino.
If you prefer your sweets on a stick, choose from the wide array of popsicles, divided into milk-based (paletas de leche, which can be dipped in chocolate for an extra 41 cents) and fruit-based (paletas de fruta). Both kinds are delicious, although not quite as jaw-dropping as the ice cream. Many of the milk-based ones incorporate yogurt, as in a pale green blend of yogurt and kiwi. Some take a page from each book, as with the surpassingly lovely purple-and-white-striped blackberry cheesecake, which alternates layers of blackberry with softer ones of queso-flavored ice cream. Many include embedded slices of fruit, which are both beautiful and tasty. Topping out at $2.60, they are easy to take home and keep in your freezer for later.
La Michoacana also does a variety of snacks, both sweet and savory, including tostadas de ceviche rico (only on the weekends), nachos (the kind with cheese sauce and jalapenos only), bionico (a sort of fruit salad with granola and cream), esquites (basically elote in a styrofoam cup, with hot kernels of corn cut from the cob and mixed with crema, cheese and chili powder) and mangonadas (a drink with blended mangos, lime juice and hot sauce).
If you’ve heard of Dorilocos and wanted to try this popular Mexican street food, La Michoacana is happy to oblige. Pick your flavor of Doritos (original nacho cheese is most popular) and watch as the staff slices the side of the bag and adds chunks of cucumber, pickled pork rinds, fried peanuts, lime juice, hot sauce, onions and chamoy. The best method for actually consuming it is to grab a plastic fork and try to chop up the chips into smaller pieces. As you may suspect, it’s a bit much, unless your taste buds are young and tough and crave sensory overload. Papas encueradas (potato chips with pickled pork rinds, onion and hot sauce) are a bit simpler but less exciting as a result, but both would seem to pair surprisingly well with ice cream.
La Michoacana is open from noon–9 p.m. every day and takes credit cards.
I ALSO SCREAM FOR TACOS: If you’ve gone out to Polleria Pablo and found it closed, you should know that there’s another great option right next door. Tacos los Plebes (3077 Danielsville Road, 706-208-1930) cooks up good food every day for lunch and dinner out of a counter at the back of the Sinaloa Supermarket. A few tables allow for seating, and you can browse produce, dried chiles, bags of giant marshmallows, piñatas and a stock pot big enough for a small child while you wait.
Pollo, lengua, cabeza, al pastor, chorizo, carnitas, barbacoa, asada and tripa are all available as tacos, sopes, tortas, burritos or quesadillas, although not all nine options may be offered on a given day. Served in a heated double corn tortilla with freshly chopped onions, cilantro, a squeeze of lime, a couple of slices of mild radish and choice of green or red salsa (both spicy and complex), the tacos are brilliant when consumed within a few minutes of their arrival.
The sopes are better yet, with beans and crumbled queso fresco, transcending their combination of ingredients to become something multiplicatively (rather than additively) delicious. The torta cubana (which includes ham, beans, eggs and chorizo, among much else) is big enough to fill a large styrofoam container and could feed at least two people. Weekends bring menudo, ladled out of a big pot. Horchata is in a dispenser by the food counter and other drink options are in the coolers. If you need to pay with a credit card, you can do that at the market register, although cash seems preferred.