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Last modified on February 8th, 2019 at 11:40 am
The Tucson Mall food court has evolved into a surprisingly gourmet frozen dessert destination.
Up until a few months ago, icy sweet offerings included Yogurt Swirl and Allegro-Gelato Naturale Italiano.
But Tucson Mall is becoming an increasingly exciting shopping center, in no small part because the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance (SAACA) is moving its headquarters and giant makers spaces to the first floor this spring.
What was once a site of mass consumerism will also become a site of making, purchasing, and collaborating on multimedia artistic endeavors.
The following three new dessert choices will complement the creative transformation the Mall is undergoing.
This vintage throwback to drugstore counter Thrifty Ice Cream might seem more nostalgic than exemplary cross-cultural fusion, at first. Local folks drive from near and far to reminisce by devouring the creamy Americana concoction.
At least at the Tucson Mall location, though, the sentimental brand has become exciting and worldly.
The mall attracts many shoppers from Sonora, especially on the weekends. At least 150 Thrifty locations are sprinkled throughout Mexico, most densely in the north, so the uniquely squared-off scoop is familiar to this clientele, and not at all a bygone.
At least a few of the flavors at this two-month-old franchise branch are distinctly Mexico-inspired, compared to the limited selection old-school Tucsonans might recall from the counters of their youth.
The Tucson Mall location scoops up Thrifty standards like Rainbow Sherbet, Black Cherry, and Pecan Praline. But it also features seasonal, regional specialties like Dulce de Leche and Limón. Most of the flavor labels are in both Spanish and English (“algodón de azucar” is a bicultural favorite).
At peak times, which are often, a line trails out the door into the mall and the four tables and 20 or so chairs are occupied. A single scoop on a cone starts at only $2.99, in keeping with the Thrifty philosophy.
Keep up with Arizona Ice Cream on Facebook.
Luis Medina and his fiancée Clarissa Vasquez own the only Tucson branch of this franchise of six Arizona mall-based, Thailand-inspired ice cream stands.
Conceptually, Maya’s ice cream rolls are different from any other regional dessert and definitely stand out among Tucson Mall selections.
First, Medina, Vasquez, or one of their two employees spreads one of four homemade liquid ice cream base flavors over -13 degree cold plates. They roll and slice the freezing slab as deftly as a teppanyaki chef manipulates meat. The ice cream is formed into about six cigar-shaped rolls and placed into a bowl. Then, they add two (or more) toppings and one of six syrups to fashion either a preset menu creation or whatever concoction the customer deems delicious.
The whole process takes three to four minutes per serving, due to each item’s customizability. Medina said the rolling technique takes about two weeks of practice to master.
It’s kind of like Cold Stone Creamery’s mix-in concept, but Maya Ice Cream Rolls derives from Thai street food; and the dessert freezes a liquid, versus a pre-frozen solid ice cream base.
The most popular roll combo at the Tucson Mall location is the #1 on the menu, Oreo-Rocher Love. This dessert makes most sense using a chocolate or vanilla ice cream base, but Medina and Vasquez agree: they’ve seen it all over the two months they’ve been open.
“It’s most fun when people start getting creative,” Medina said. “That’s cool.”
Fun toppings include Pop Rocks Boba, Chocolate Pocky, Fresh Banana, and Freshly Toasted Marshmallows. (Medina noted the fire extinguisher within reach, as he torched the giant marshmallow.)
Two toppings come free with the small ($6) or large ($7) roll bowl; additional toppings are 50 cents each.
Keep up with Maya Ice Cream Rolls on Instagram.
When he moved to Tucson from Chicago in 2001, Alex Santoyo knew he wanted to keep working in the fruit industry. And he knew he wanted to open his own business.
His family is originally from Michoacan, Mexico, and he gathered inspiration for his restaurant from a preparation he knew and loved: raspados.
He opened his first Eat Fresh location in the Tucson Mall, in the second-floor food court above his new stand that opened a few months ago. Now there are four: three in Tucson (one outside the mall on Flowing Wells), and one in Tempe’s Arizona Mills shopping center.
What differentiates Santoyo’s raspados from the others all over the region, he said, is that “we use 100 percent natural ingredients.” His recipes use fresh fruit and never syrup.
Order a fresh Tamarindo Obispo: shaved ice, fruit, lechero (condensed milk), and ice cream. Or opt for a more traditional raspado without the ice cream. Mango, Coconut, and Strawberry are all standouts.
Eat Fresh is also different, Santoyo said, because each location offers Michoacano dishes including posole, menudo, gorditas, steak rancho, and sopes.
Arizona Ice Cream, Maya Ice Cream Rolls, and Eat Fresh Mexican Food Raspados are open during regular mall hours, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays at 4500 N. Oracle Road.