There are, of course, other reasons for choosing US-101 over I-5 if a trip calls for traversing the 400 miles between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay. While I have fond memories of blazing along the speedy yet desolate 5 during my college years – stopping for lunch at Kettleman City’s mirage-like In-N-Out and sealing every inch of the vehicle moments before breezing by the cattle concentration camp at Coalinga pass – I’ve since learned that a leisurely crawl along the 101 is undeniably more pleasurable.
Beyond bearing the advantages of traveling on a highway with more than two lanes and more to look at than absolutely nothing, US-101 is a wonderful route for the hungry. Just a couple of hours out of Los Angeles, a stop at La Super Rica is good enough to warrant its own trip. Closer to the Bay, the 101 passes through Gilroy, whose status as “garlic capital of the world” is assured by the confident scent that seeps into every car rolling on by. The banners of In-N-Out dot the highway from end to end. And in the central coast farming town of Santa Maria, Paleteria Neveria Linda Michoacan Numero Dos makes a compelling case for taking the long way as often as possible.
This roomy ice cream parlor in downtown Santa Maria, bearing the mark of Michoacán, was the highlight of my summer road trip to the central coast, where Boykji, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Zakhar and I were tearing through tri-tip, steak, scotch, and board games in the spirit of summer. We found our way to Paleteria Neveria Linda Michoacana No. 2 on a Chowhound tip from the indomitable Melanie Wong and were immediately dumbfounded by the variety of paletas stocked in just one of the palor’s freezer cases. After plenty of gawking, followed by the awkward shuffle between two dancers whose left feet are each other’s native tongues, Boykji and I chose eight paletas for the crew to sample.
We didn’t touch any of the hundred-plus other frosty confections available – not because we doubted a Michoacana’s skill with ice cream, but because a freezer full of paletas is enough to keep one’s palate enchanted for days. Whereas American popsicles tend to be little more than icy vessels for sugar and food coloring, their Mexican counterparts embody a rich variety of flavors and textures, turning every good paleta into a distinctly refreshing memory.
At Paleteria Neveria Linda Michoacana No. 2, fresa (strawberry) is entirely different from fresa y crema (strawberry ice cream), though both contain frozen chunks of ripe strawberry. A nuez (walnut) paleta is nothing like a pistachio paleta in flavor or in texture; the former has a deep, bourbon-like taste and a layer of grit, while the latter – in the classically unfortunate terms of pistachio ice cream – retains the artificial taste of a gumball dropped in salted nuts.
Rompopo con pasas (eggnog with raisins) is a different beast altogether: entirely unmitigated in its use of rum, studded with frozen, taffy-like raisins, and altogether heartier than any of the other flavors we sampled. Arroz resembles an iced rice pudding more than a frozen horchata, with a distinctly dense and and chewy texture. These two paletas struck me as mas lindas, transcribing hallmark concoctions into a treat more satisfying than its source material.
I still wonder how the mixed fruit paleta earned the name “tutti frutti.” Whether or not I find out, I’ve decided “tutti frutti” will be the name of my Mexican-ice-cream-themed ranchera band’s first record. Expect a debut tour along US-101.
Paleteria Neveria Linda Michoacana No. 2
917 N. Broadway
Santa Maria, CA 93454