Bloomington’s ethnic food scene is one of Indiana’s most diverse.
Fourth Street, Kirkwood Avenue and surrounding foodie hotspots have a wide array of options, drawing in visitors from around town and beyond. IU junior Jessica Morris said she was happy to see Bloomington’s many restaurants upon arriving on campus as a freshman.
“I was really excited because there were a lot of options at a walkable distance that we didn’t have in my hometown,” Morris said.
I shared a lot of the same feelings, and so I was excited to see what Bloomington had to offer. However, after setting out on a quest to find Bloomington’s best horchata last weekend, reality fell short of my expectations.
Horchata is a traditional Mexican beverage, typically made of rice water, cinnamon and a sweetener. An iconic staple of Mexican cuisine, I assumed horchata would be easy to find in Bloomington and the real struggle would be in determining which restaurant had the best.
After trying to order horchata at six different Bloomington Mexican restaurants, I was only able to find it at three: La Poblana, Juannita’s and The 3 Amigos. To my surprise, Social Cantina, La Una Cantina and La Charreada do not serve horchata.
The three restaurants I was able to get the drink from, however, all served horchata differing in taste and recipe.
At La Poblana, owner Angel Magno described how his recipe had evolved.
“The original, believe it or not, was made from cantaloupe seeds,” Magno said. “But the most common horchata is made from rice water.”
Magno also spoke to his horchata’s authenticity, assuring that unlike many other restaurants which now use horchata from concentrate, La Poblana’s beverage was made of rice water.
I found La Poblana’s horchata to be creamy, but not too thick for my taste. It was also not as sweet as the horchatas I am used to, but I very much enjoyed the cinnamon to drink ratio.
The second restaurant I visited was Juannita’s, which has been open for eight years. Owner Carmen Marquez reminisced on her beginnings in Bloomington.
“I started here with only my food cart,” Marquez said. “From there, I kept climbing until I opened the restaurant.”
Juannita’s horchata recipe is from Cholula, Puebla, and Marquez said her recipe, like many others, stands out in its ingredients.
“A lot of people make it with rice, but my recipe is different,” Marquez said. “I use cow’s milk, but everything we cook with is organic.”
The horchata at Juannita's was sweeter, which is how I personally prefer it. It was also milkier and used less cinnamon than La Poblana.
The last restaurant I was able to find horchata at was The 3 Amigos. Like La Poblana, The 3 Amigos uses rice water in their recipe.
The 3 Amigos’ horchata was sweeter, less creamy and had an amount of cinnamon that fell right between La Poblana and Juannita’s.
While these three Bloomington restaurants offer their own unique versions of horchata, it was puzzling to me that the drink was not more common in a town that prides itself on its cultural cuisine. A worker at Social Cantina said that although not on the menu, they previously served horchata to those who asked for it. However due to the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, this is no longer possible.
Despite lacking many options, Bloomington’s demand for horchata is met by just three restaurants, all offering their own unique version of the popular drink.