By Gina Valencia | Photos by Monique Kuhlman
[Pictured: All photos taken at Aguas Frescas Yahualica]
Eat at enough small Mexican restaurants and you’ll see aguas frescas (Spanish for fresh waters), water-based drinks made with fruits, grains, flowers, or seeds combined with sugar and displayed in large plastic barrels called ‘vitroleros.’
Per Mexican folklore, my Aztec ancestors were the first to grind the fruits and seeds they gathered and mix it with water. Given the simplicity of combining things found in a garden, aguas frescas exploded in popularity in Mexico. When the tasty drinks made their way into the U.S. via street vendors and small family restaurants in the early 1940s, the flavors and bright colors attracted anyone looking for a refreshing, healthier alternative to soft drinks.
Everyone has a favorite: aunt Ana and cousin Nikki love agua de jamaica (hibiscus, which is high in antioxidants); I love horchata, a creamy sweetened drink made with rice, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon (some places add sliced strawberries). Other refreshing flavors include piña (pineapple), sandía (watermelon), and agua de pepino (cucumber water) - so much tastier than the kind you’d find at a spa!
The beauty of aguas frescas is that you can get as creative and adventurous as you want! Mix flavors, add chia seeds, or mint leaves — add a couple of carne asada tacos on the side — and you’re golden!
865 E. 7th St, 90813
Tucked around the corner of 7th Street and MLK Avenue, across from Gumbiner Park, is Frutilandia. Most of owner Clara Landeros’s aguas include the traditional flavors including fresa (strawberry), papaya, mango, and jamaica, a favorite of customer Ashleigh Engel, “It’s a little tart and not too sweet.”
5248 Long Beach Blvd, 90805
This family-owned restaurant boasts over 15 different sabores. Aguas Way is the way to go for classics and unique flavors like avena (oat), guayaba (guava), platano (banana) and mora azul con limón (blueberry with lemon).
Aguas Frescas Yahualica
6678 Long Beach Blvd, 90805
Named after the Mexican town the family originated from, this eatery offers a slew of Latino foods and products. Sisters-in-law Teresa Gonzalez and Anabell Sepulveda make their aguas fresh every morning, and the menu changes daily so each visit is a delicious surprise. Try their fresas con limón (Uncle Chris’ favorite) or my daughter’s new favorite, naranja con mango, like a tropical getaway in every sip.