La Pina Loca
Sweet, tart, and spicy
by Lee Lawrence
From the October, 2020 issue
I bet you could use some fun, most any fun. How about batons of fresh fruit sprinkled with lime and chile powder, or a meal where Doritos are the defining taste-and not because you're killing an entire bag with a beer in front of the TV?
True to its name, La Piña Loca (The Crazy Pineapple) offers that kind of fun. A riot of primary colors, the small storefront in a relatively new strip mall on Platt at Ellsworth is the sixth "child" of Gloria Sendejo and her husband Benjamin Garduno. With five kids, Sendejo, particularly, is adept at throwing a party-she also owns Casa de Yoyis Party Rental-and La Piña Loca's Facebook page records her dolled-up children, loaded sweets tables, and extravagant fruit concoctions. Featuring riffs on contemporary Mexican street food, the paletería (Mexican popsicle shop) bedazzles more traditional snacks, ice creams, and desserts with mass-produced oddities spilled from crinkly bags.
Take the elote. Typically, it's an ear of corn slathered with mayonnaise, Tajín (Mexican chile powder), and queso fresco. At La Piña Loca you can, if you wish, also get it dusted with crushed Doritos, hot Cheetos, or Takis spicy tortilla chips. American palates are usually suckers for crunch and crackle, so who among us can resist that extra bit of savor? And if you prefer easier eating, you can order esquites, a large cup of warm corn kernels dressed in similar fashion.
Besides corn, La Piña Loca has a few other savory options-tamales occasionally, but more often chicharón preparado. The latter begins with a chicharón de harina, a compressed flour-based square that, when fried, puffs and expands into a giant airy, crispy wafer. This base is then layered with warm cueritos (pickled pork rind slices), cabbage or lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrot, and avocado, and finished off with zigzags of mayonnaise and hot sauce. (To prevent sogginess, to-go orders slide the chicharón to the side.) While my husband ate his chicharón preparado with raised eyebrows, especially
when I explained the slippery curls of pork rind, he finished it, and I loved mine, in a decadent sort of way. If I'm ever there when they have the shrimp ceviche version, I'll be sure to try it.
But La Piña Loca is really about sweet, and often about that jangly spot where sweet, tart, and spicy collide. The treat that gives La Piña Loca its name is half a hollowed pineapple piled high with diced fruit and gummy and tamarind (sour fruit) candies, all mingling with both hot sauce and chamoy sauce, a salty, sweet, spicy Mexican condiment. Absolutely delicious and a must-try is the mangonada, a swirled formulation of mango ice cream, diced mango, and chamoy sauce, garnished with a straw wrapped in an addictive tamarind paste that is as salty as it is tart and sweet.
Naturally, as a paletería, La Piña Loca offers other ice cream drinks and concoctions, along with snow cones and, of course, paletas (popsicles), but in the Mexican, not American, style-expect embellishments and flavors that reflect that tropical clime and culture. The sheer number of paleta flavors is astonishing, ranging from guayaba (guava), kiwi con fresa, (strawberry) and sandía (watermelon) to piña con chile, arroz con leche<i> (rice pudding), and cajeta (dulce de leche caramel). I couldn't possibly name you a favorite, but I can tell you an assortment is a lot of fun at a party. (Be warned that the popsicle wrappings don't list their flavors; discovery will be part of your guests' merriment.)
Even if you're just looking for a bag of Doritos to go with your beer, La Piña Loca has you covered. Dori locos embellishes the chips with peanuts, cueritos, jalapeños, and hot sauce-a lot of fun that you can set next to you on the couch.
La Piña Loca
3980 Platt Rd.
Daily noon-9 p.m.
[Originally published in October, 2020.]
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