During the dog days of this pandemic summer, nothing feels more transcendent than ice cream. That is, unless it’s peaches at their peak, or buttery yellow corn, or a hot dog smothered in chile and mustard, or a sweet-tart cup of icy lemonade.
After the July 13 re-closure of indoor dining rooms, I took a few days to get reacquainted with the best seasonal food the city still has to offer.
After I picked up a bag of garden mulch at Big Jo True Value Hardware, my first stop on this tour de comfort was Roque’s Hot Dogs, in the corner of the hardware store parking lot on Siler Road.
“This is the kind of thing that gets you on ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,’ ” Armando Pacheco exclaimed, looping the word “Chicano” in mustard cursive over his signature Chicano dog ($6 for a dog, chips and soda). “Except I’m more of a dive.”
The Roque’s cart is owned by Roque Garcia of Roque’s Carnitas on the Plaza, but it is manned by the effervescent Pacheco. His Chicano dog is a spin on the Chicago-style classic, with a grilled quarter-pound Hebrew National frank, Young Guns green chile, a mixture of spicy and regular relish, sliced red onions, mustard and a finishing sprinkle of red chile powder on your choice of a tortilla or bun. The kosher wiener is a revelatory blend of sweet, hot and beefy.
I headed to Paleteria Oasis on Airport Road to stock the freezer with a grab bag of gourmet housemade milk- or water-based paletas to go ($2.98 each). Paleteria Oasis makes its ice cream with fresh ingredients and no preservatives in two storefront locations, along with a hefty menu of sundaes and Mexican snacks, such as Doritos or Takis Locos (bags of chips doctored with your choice of toppings, plus lime, Valentina or chamoy sauce), tortas or elotes.
The paletas also primed me for more elevated seasonal fare, which I found on a patio table at Paper Dosa one evening. The 6-year-old South Indian restaurant rotates its menu according to what’s in season, right now, that means peaches. They’re the star of the peach and avocado salad, an abundant heap of farmers market greens sprinkled with crunchy pepitas and tossed in a simple peach-cilantro dressing. For a dynamic duet of summer’s bounty, pair the salad with chef Paulraj Karuppasamy’s curry leaf corn soup, a silky, cozy bowl of puréed Olathe Sweet corn, coconut milk, chiles and leeks. Add a Puli Jeera, which blends cilantro and mint with thick cumin-tamarind syrup and soda water, for a cooling, sweet and spicy drink.
Finally, summertime demands a decent fish sandwich, at least in my book. A superb one can be found at the Jambo Hapa food truck, currently parked outside Ohori’s Coffee in the Luna Center. (Another Jambo food truck with the same menu is sometimes open outside Jambo Café farther down Cerrillos Road.)
On a hot afternoon, I sucked down a bracing mango-ginger lemonade ($4) while awaiting a tilapia sandwich and lemon harissa fries ($15). The pili pili-spiced griddled white fish is curled into a thick pita and topped with a cooling mango-papaya chutney, sliced cherry tomatoes, red onions and mixed greens. Citrus-spiked fries are coated with sharp harissa powder and sided with a tangy harissa mayonnaise.
That particular lunch was a baptism of bold Afro-Caribbean flavor that encapsulated exactly what I was looking for – seasonally specific reasons to support local restaurants, however they are able to serve us.