Houston is notorious for its summers: unbearable heat making the mercury climb to the upper nineties and even hundreds, humidity that leaves you drenched in sweat in the two minutes it takes you to go from door to car. And don't forget all the third degree burns from climbing onto your leather car seat or from touching the steering wheel.
Ah, yes, summertime in Houston is enough to drive a person away to another, more temperate part of the world, or at least to a refrigerator or an air conditioned place that serves cool summer snacks.
Here are my top five places to enjoy a cool dessert while seeking shelter from that unmerciful Texas sun.
5. Juice Box
This little shop in a Chinatown strip mall serves up Taiwanese-style shaved ice: chunks of fresh fruit, finely shaved ice, a scoop of fruit-flavored ice cream, and a drizzle of condensed milk for extra sweetness. I prefer the mango, but strawberry and watermelon are good summer options. The ice cream is the same flavor as the fruit in your shaved ice. I personally ask for the condensed milk on the side as I find it too sweet, but there are many who swear by the stuff. An order is large enough to share with a friend, so for a few bucks, you'll be feeling cool in no time.
Perhaps a healthier alternative is frozen yogurt (or froyo, as it's been dubbed), a trend that rose and plateaued in the past few years. Whether or not it's on the decline, I can't say, but it's still a yummy snack to get on a hot summer day. I like Berripop because it has just the right ratio of tartness to sweetness. There are a handful of yogurt flavors like original, strawberry-pomegranate, blueberry, mango, etc. You can dress your froyo with all sorts of toppings from cereal to nuts to candies to fruit. The best topping is the mochi, a doughy floured Japanese rice cake that is chewy and subtly sweet. I've tried all sorts of froyo combos here but always revert to my favorite: blueberry yogurt with fresh blueberries, granola, and mochi. There are multiple Berripop locations all over town, so it should be easy to find one near you. Don't forget to ask for a punch card; you'll be grateful you have one to support your cool habit.
This blue trailer calls its current home on the corner of Rutland and 20th in the Heights. For $2, you get a small New Orleans-style cool summer snack -- very finely shaved ice called "snoballs" instead of "sno-cones" -- in the flavor of your choice from the classic Grape to the zany like Tiger's Blood or Dill Pickle. So far, I've tried Dreamsicle (like an Orange Julius or those orange Creamsicles) and Pina Colada and enjoyed them both. Next on my list will be Georgia Peach. For a little extra, you get a scoop of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream at the bottom, a little condensed milk or sour spray at the top. The ice is very fine, not like those coarse chunks of ice from childhood with extra sweet flavored corn syrups squirted on top. No, these snoballs melt as soon as they touch your tongue. Very cool. Check their website before going to make sure they're open.
Another shaved ice dessert of Asian origin makes the Top 5 list. This time, it's the shaved ice from Star Snow Ice. A small bowl costs $2, and you get your choice of four toppings; I like pineapple, oatmeal, red or green beans, and egg custard. Syrup and/or condensed milk can also be added on top. These Chinese snacks offer something cold and refreshing but not too sweet to eat. Some locations also offer a punch card, and there are multiple locations throughout Chinatown. Cash only.
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No matter what the trend, good ol'-fashioned ice cream will always be at the top of my list. But Ben & Jerry's always offer new takes on old flavors. With one location inside the loop, perhaps it's easier to pick up your favorite Ben & Jerry's flavors at the local store. I always have a pint or two in my freezer to quench my ice cream cravings. They have creatively named flavors that taste creative, too: Cherry Garcia (named for the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia) which is cherry ice cream with Bing cherries and dark chocolate swirled in; AmeriCone Dream (in honor of comedian Stephen Colbert), which has fudge-covered waffle cone pieces and caramel mixed in with vanilla ice cream; and my favorite, Chunky Monkey, banana flavored ice cream with walnuts and semi-sweet chocolate chunks. Very summer, very cool.
Because Houston stays hot for practically five months out of the year, you still have plenty of time to check out all of the Top 5 Cool Summer snacks. Tried one of the above? Have a different place in mind for your favorite Cool Summer Snack? Let me know with a comment.