Elotes. My new friend. I loved the street food, but it left me thirsty. Thankfully, aguas frescas were available just inside the Oak Lawn grocery store. El Rio Grande Supermercado offered at least 10 versions while I was visiting, ranging from the simple and refreshing lime and cucumber, to a thick horchata, to a scary creamy pink number the same color as a fourth-grader's nail polish.
Ask, and the girl behind the counter will ladle your chosen refreshment into a 16-ounce cup with a little ice. There's a larger size for those of you who miss your Super Big Gulp. You order at the front of the store but you have to pay at the register, which is where I found these little gems while waiting in line. Nestle has gotten into the aquas frescas game, offering horchata, jamaica and tamarindo flavors. I thought it was the perfect opportunity for a little aguas frescas taste test.
Back at headquarters I tore into the drinks with two other staffers. Here are our tasting notes.
Jamaica: Ingredients listed included water, sugar and hibiscus extract. The drink was sweet and sadly there were no notes of dreadlocks or kind bud. One taster perceived cranberry -- I think it was the color. I was hoping for more of those summery floral tones I get from the local stalls. This was more like dandelions meets Juicy-Juice.
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Tamarindo: Ingredients listed include tamarind paste, water and sugar. I like that they used paste instead of that molasses-like tamarind extract; you could see little bits of grit floating around in the drink, but this drink was cloyingly sweet and viscous. Tamarind is tart so it would take a lot of sugar to get this result. As you might expect the bottle comes in at 250 calories
Horchata: Ingredients listed include water, rice powder carrageenan, gellan gum and sweetened condensed milk. It was definitely that last ingredient that led one taster to describe the flavor as rice pudding-y. This was our favorite of the three, but it's still not right straight from the bottle.
Each of these drinks would benefit from being poured over ice for a little dilution. But really, if you're going to go to all that trouble, why not just hit a real aguas frescas stand. You'll pay a little more, but the flavors are endless, and if you're lucky they'll have that lime and cucumber version I'm still thinking about almost a week later.