After four years of selling paletas—traditional Mexican ice cream bars—at pop-ups, a walk-up window, and at local grocery stores, Ice Queen has opened a paleteria near Ladd’s Addition in Southeast Portland’s Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood.
The brick-and-mortar shop, which opened in October, offers limited-edition, seasonal, and permanent flavors such as Oatchata, toasted coconut, fudge, mangonada, caramel- and peanut-filled Apple Bottom, and fresa with a hidden slice of an Oregon strawberry frozen inside. No matter the base—water or dairy-free milk—each paleta is smooth and creamy, and just as vibrant on the inside as it is on the outside.
Customers can also personalize their paletas or soft serve at a topping station stocked with chocolate sauce, sprinkles, Smarties dust, cherries, Chick-O-Sticks, and handcrafted chamoy from Pica Drip, to name a few of the options.
Owner Rebecca Smith says she didn’t start out making frozen pops. She sold vegan ice cream at her first couple of pop-ups, and then quickly realized she needed a bigger ice cream machine. But the cost was too high. “I was like, ‘OK, I’ve already spent a lot of time formulating these recipes, so how can I still use them, but not use a machine?’” Smith says. She turned to using Popsicle molds instead and rented out a commissary kitchen. By August 2020, Smith was able to purchase a dedicated machine for her paletas.
She cites her late father as her biggest fan. He was there for every step of the journey, purchasing Smith the metal molds, her first freezer, and loaning her the money to buy the machine. “He was very supportive in that way,” she says. “And he was very foundational to who I am as a person and being attached to Chicano identity.”
Growing up in the Bay Area in Richmond, California, Smith says she was always very inspired by Chicano culture, which comes through in Ice Queen’s branding: Old English font for its logo and a candy-painted front counter synonymous with lowrider culture. Smith also tries to stay true to the flavors she remembers from her childhood while adding her own touch to the paletas. Toasted coconut was Smith’s go-to paleta as a kid, she says. But the first one she ever made was Oatchata, which she calls her “old reliable.” It’s her take on the classic horchata flavor with an oat milk base. She also uses soy, coconut, or almond milk for her bases. “I try to do what complements the flavor the best,” she says.
Smith says there’s more to making frozen treats than people might expect. When she first started making ice cream, she studied French cook books. “French cooking is so the opposition of vegan, but they really do have things down to a science,” she says.
Ice Queen's flavors come and go quickly. You’ll never know what to expect when you walk in. “It’s a little bittersweet, right? Because I change flavors constantly based on when I get bored of making something,” she says. At this point, Smith says she has made at least 100 different flavors. The latest is a maple bar with house-made, vegan bacon. (But be warned, it might not be around for long.)
Smith says there were a lot of growing pains and sleepless nights to get where she is now, but it was all worth it. The time it’s taken for her to open a storefront allowed her to build personal relationships with customers who have been there since her first pop-ups in parking lots.
“People come in here that I literally have known for four years, and I know their kids’ names. And even if they weren’t buying anything, I would still talk to them for a while,” she says. “I feel like I wouldn’t have those kinds of aspects of the business if I had enough money to jump into it [from the start].”
Open 3–9 p.m. Thu–Mon, 2012 SE 11th Ave