As you leave downtown SanTana south on Main Street, the scenery turns into a time machine hijacked by Detroit. Santa Ana officials deem this area the Historic South Main Business District, complete with a huge, lit sign that spans Main near Warner Avenue, but it's really a vacant, rundown area waiting for gentrification to happen.
One of the strangest buildings in this area is a business plaza virtually walled off from civilization. There's no parking on Main, and its only access point is an alley that leads to a parking lot and the plaza's entrance—Richard Neutra by way of Tijuana. It's here that the fabulous La Flor de Michoacán has operated for about two years, almost invisible except to those who know that here stands the best paletería in Orange County. It's not just that it offers all the flavors required in a proper Mexican ice cream shop for its made-in-house nieve and popsicles—nuez (walnuts), horchata, lime, chile-spiked mango, rompopé (egg nog) and so many more. It's not even that it offers those rare flavors only the best paleterías offer—mamey, chamoy, chongos (sweetened curds), among others. Where La Flor de Michoacán beats everyone is in flavors that are, well, michoacanos. Just as Cambodians dominate the Southern California doughnut business, immigrants from Michoacán dominate the ice cream business in Mexico and this country, but they have largely customized their offerings for mass-market consumption. Here, though, regionalism rules. On the paletas front, you'll find guayabilla (a tropical fruit related to guavas, but far tarter and sweeter) and tejocote, an ancient fruit banned for decades in the United States (and subsequently smuggled into el Norte by Mexicans needing their ponche fix for the holidays) that tastes similar to crabapple finished with lime. Ice creams bring nance, a fruit with the taste of custard. All ice creams start a bit crystallized but melt beautifully on your palate; the paletas maintain their icy bulk down to the last lick.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Staying true to its district, La Flor de Michoacán doesn't really care about presentation: Its dining area is dank, and it seems most of the money spent for décor went to a humongous banner that reads like a White Pages of flavors. Even the tags telling eaters which ice cream flavor is which is usually little more than Sharpie on tape. It doesn't matter. Here stands a gem, stuck in a time warp, waiting for you to do your Doctor Who act and swoop in.