Native Wacoans who didn’t grow up visiting Helados La Azteca for mangonadas and limón popsicles have likely been driving by the location at 3302 Franklin Avenue for decades without knowing what they were missing.
For more than twenty years, Helados La Azteca has been serving up Jalisco-style frozen treats, candies, and savory snacks, making it one of Waco’s oldest ice cream parlors in operation. While the Franklin location was originally founded in 1998 by Alfredo Garcia and his brothers, it is now operated by Alfredo with the help of his immediate family, most notably his son Eddie, who inherited his father’s entrepreneurial spirit and has recently opened two more locations in Waco.
Tropical Ice Cream Dreams
First-time visitors to Helados La Azteca can’t go wrong at the brand new location on North Valley Mills Drive next to Don’s Humidor (although the smaller shop next to Lalo’s Coffee on Colcord Avenue, also owned by Eddie, is another great choice). The largest of the three Waco shops, the Valley Mills location boasts the most varieties of ice cream flavors and offers plenty of seating for friends and families.
Hot pink tables and walls covered in bright, tropical-hued murals create a cheery, playful atmosphere in which to peruse the substantial selection of treats. Condiment stations near the door offer hot sauces, chamoy, and other savory toppings for your ice creams and fresh fruit cups.
You’ll find a small array of Blue Bell ice cream, mostly kid-themed flavors like Blue Monster and Krazy Kolors, but those in the know will try the ice creams and popsicles still made in-house by Alfredo, Eddie, and their small, dedicated staff at the Franklin location.
The Garcia family purchases their plain ice cream base from a supplier and adds their own ingredients such as fresh fruits, jams, cakes, chocolates, and candies to create their custom flavors. This allows them to avoid the heavy costs incurred from running a full-scale creamery, while still making creative ice creams at a price accessible to most Wacoans.
The result is a light, creamy ice cream with a touch more iciness than your typical custardy artisan joint, and at Helados La Azteca, that’s a good thing. All of the flavors from rich chocolate (made from Carlos V milk chocolate bars) to coconut are light on the palate and the belly, allowing you to float out of the shop and back into the punishing Texas heat without feeling bogged down.
Alfredo still makes most of the classic flavors like fresa y crema, guava, and rompope, while Eddie experiments with more unusual ingredients. The classics are lovely, particularly the mango, which is brightly tropical, sour, and just salty enough to make the fresh mango pop. But you don’t want to miss out on Eddie’s more creative additions to the menu.
The avocado ice cream is surprisingly complex and tasty, with a heavily creamy mouthfeel and tiny, chewy-tender flecks of fresh avocado dotted throughout. Sure, you’ll taste the expected fatty richness of the avocado, but you’ll also find fruity-floral notes and hints of vanilla which are all derived from the avocado itself, and help elevate the fruit to a new level of yum.
Some of Eddie’s newest flavors are sensory revelations. The Thai tea ice cream with Oreos, inspired by Eddie’s friend Devin Li at Cha Community, combines childhood flavors of cookies and cream with the sweet-bitter-floral qualities of good Thai tea. It is both familiar and unexpected, almost sorbet-like in texture, and the chocolate-black-tea pairing is a knockout.
The matcha ice cream, another Cha Community-inspired offering, features just a touch of matcha’s signature grassy bitterness, with the floral notes of the matcha and the gentler green tea tannins taking center stage.
Then there’s the nostalgic Abuelita ice cream, made with Abuelita brand Mexican hot chocolate, which opens with sweet cinnamon notes that are rounded out by the flecks of hot chocolate and that unmistakable, soft sugary crunch that can only come from Abuelita. This one is so addictive and transportative that you’ll wish you sprang for that extra scoop. (But now you know.)
Other must-tries are the Gansito, a vanilla ice cream packed with chunks of Ganisto Mexican snack cakes (vanilla cake, strawberry jam, chocolate coating), and the queso, made with sweet, crumbly panela cheese and thickly-striped with raspberry jam.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Snacks For Every Age & Palate
Step away from the ice cream counter and you’ll find freezer chests full of house-made popsicles in flavors such as tequila, sandia, pepitas con chile, kiwi, and Ferrero Rocher alongside ready-made cups of frozen fresh fruits combined with chamoy. At the counter next to the ice creams, you’ll see fresh chunks of watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, melons, and mangoes ready to be stuffed into a cup or skewered on a stick, smothered with chamoy, or placed on top of your favorite scoop.
Candy freaks will appreciate the Mexican sweets in small baskets near the counters—everything from de la Rosa marzapán to tiny Carlos V candy bars—but gummy candy devotees won’t want to miss the trollies stocked with items from another local business, Tastin’ Texas.
It may not sound like much, but if you are a gummy fanatic and haven’t had a Gusher, Fruit-by-the-Foot, or Sour Patch Kid smothered in chamoy and rim dip, essentially a customized version of Tajin spices such as lime and mild chile peppers, then it’s possible you haven’t lived.
A generous package of Gushers will set you back $6, and you’ll be grinning like a fool as you prize each sticky blob out of the mound of stuck-together gummies, pop one in your mouth, and lick the spiced goo from your greedy fingers. They are a simple pleasure to devour thanks to the perfect balance of sweet syrupy fruit and savory-spiced sprinkles, and they are the top-selling non-frozen snack at Helados La Azteca.
Round out your dessert with a cup of elotes, a bag of Cachitos chile-lime chips, and a glass of agua fresca in flavors like fresa, limon, or pineapple-spinach, and that’s your dinner ruined. (And an added bonus: now you don’t have to cook dinner.)
A Legacy of Frozen Delights
“I’ve been doing this since I was a kid,” says Eddie Garcia, who signed his first lease for Helados La Azteca on Colcord when he was just 21 years old.
“Literally when it started, it was me, my mom, my dad, and my siblings selling ice cream and bananas,” says Eddie. The Garcia family was primarily wholesaling to twenty or thirty Latinx stores in Dallas and Houston until the early 2000s, when they decided to begin selling to the Waco public.
“The business was growing, and we started hiring employees, adding fruit and mangonadas to the menu, and that was until I was about 19 years old, working with my parents—with my dad mainly,” says Eddie. “And then my older brother opened another location in Haltom City in Fort Worth, and from there I got the inspiration to do the same, and that’s where the Colcord location comes in, in 2019. Since then, I’m looking to expand as much as I can. That’s my dream—to make it go as big as it can.”
So far, Eddie seems to be on track to meet his goals. Now 25 years old, Eddie owns and operates three businesses on Colcord Avenue, Helados La Azteca, Dulceria La Azteca (where he sells more candy, snacks, and piñatas), and Lalo’s Coffee.
Your average 25-year-old might be weighed down by shouldering the burden of a family business and the responsibility of running multiple enterprises in different locations. But Eddie wears the mantle well, navigating the daily business stresses with grace and calm.
“Watching my dad and seeing that business, it’s like another day for me. It’s like I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. It doesn’t feel out of the ordinary for me. It’s very—I guess natural would be the word.”
Learning to Lead
But there were learning curves, as there are for all small business owners. For Eddie, it was learning to loosen his grip on the reins and hire help.
“As a Hispanic, coming from my dad’s knowledge, they don’t even have managers or supervisors. It’s ‘I’m here all day. I’m here managing all day, every day.’ So, it was tough for me to transition from that to needing help and realizing this will make my life easier. I’ve only been doing it [working with supervisory help] for a year, and it has helped my schedule so much. It’s just about seeing the bigger picture, I think.”
Fostering a sense of community within his team of employees has been a crucial component of Eddie’s approach to growing his business.
“We are very blessed with our employees,” says Eddie. “We have really good managers that find people who care. People tend to stay at the job for a year at least, and I feel like we all kind of get along. We have very flexible schedules. I hate making people come to work when they have something else to do, even if it’s like a date. We understand. We know you have a life outside of here, so we try to work around people’s schedules. But I think that connection with all of us getting along like friends and family makes it easier for them to want to stay and want to work. It’s that connection. You can’t just treat them like employees because at that point, they’re going to look at this job like it’s just a check. We’re trying to move away from that.”
Supporting staff, managing stress, putting out fires like power outages and register malfunctions—Eddie has navigated all these challenges as he has grown into his leadership role at Helados La Azteca.
“Once you get used to the business, you know what to freak out about and what not to freak out about,” says Eddie. “As you’re learning these things and as you become a business owner, you learn you’re going to be ok. We’re going to be fine. I guess with time, I began to learn how to not react over every little thing that happens.”
Popsicles in the Thousands
Most mornings, Eddie is running errands all over town, buying fresh fruit and ingredients for ice creams and popsicles, picking up change for the registers, and visiting his shop locations. His afternoons are devoted to production at the Franklin location, where he focuses mostly on his passion, making ice cream, while Alfredo makes up to 3,000 popsicles a day.
Recipe development is an exercise in spontaneity, usually inspired by Eddie’s trips to Mexico or Southern California, or collaborations with his friends in Waco’s food scene, like Li at Cha Community. With his production process dialed in, Eddie can create new flavor combinations quickly.
Eddie, who handles most of the social media marketing work with the help of Andreas Zaloumis, manager of Lalo’s Coffee, says, “It’s crazy to me how we can share a post for a new ice cream, and people will literally go the next day or the next week and try it. That is so special for me.”
From day one when he first opened his location on Colcord Avenue, Eddie has been supported by a loyal fan base hungry for a taste of Jalisco. Even during the pandemic, when many businesses struggled, the community rallied around Helados La Azteca.
“The community really came through, and we didn’t notice a huge drop in sales during the pandemic,” says Eddie. “And so we ended up doing well, and I decided to open the coffee shop during the pandemic, and it was the same thing. The community comes through for us every single time, so we’re really blessed.”
Helados La Azteca has three locations: 3302 Franklin Avenue, 1500 Colcord Avenue, and 1412 North Valley Mills Drive. Most locations are open from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm, seven days a week.
Want to know more? Check out Eddie Garcia’s recipe for homemade horchata, a traditional Mexican drink.