Front: horchata (left) and dreamsicle (right); rear: Jamaican punch

It was tough to ignore last summer's news that Bahama Buck's was heading to Houston. Once the Lubbock-based snowcone shop set its sights on the Bayou City, it wasn't long before two dozen or so Bahama Buck's began springing up across the city—including one within walking distance from my childhood home in Memorial. Diehard fans of the chain queued up at each one as it opened its doors; I sat bemused, wondering how this chain could ever best my own favorite shaved ice at Mam's House of Ice in the Heights, where each fluffy cup of sugary snow-ice is better than the last.

I finally found out the answer when I stopped into the Bahama Buck's at 11300 Katy Fwy. this past Sunday afternoon, when the sunshine and warm temps meant that the snowcone shop was doing brisk business. Looking around the shop, I was surprised to find that aside from snow-ice, what Bahama Buck's offers is a much-needed neighborhood hangout. Middle school-aged kids sat in groups playing Connect Four and Jenga; toddlers dressed as princesses with parents in tow carefully deliberated their flavor options; a pair of tricycles complemented the sets of bicycles parked out front.

The shaved ice at Bahama Buck's comes out fast and full of flavor.

The neighborhood behind this Bahama Buck's has been bereft of such a spot since Sam's Deli Diner moved across the freeway many years ago. Though it doesn't offer cheeseburgers and curly fries or much at all in the way of food, it was easy to see why Bahama Buck's was so busy. Aside from the board games (provided by Bahama Buck's), sunny seating areas, and cheerful service, the snow-cone chain also offers frozen coffee drinks, smoothies, and bowls of fresh fruit—which you can top with ice cream for an additional charge. I imagine it will only get busier this summer, a welcome anchor tenant to the newly redeveloped Sherwood Oaks strip mall that sat abandoned and graffiti-covered for years.

But what about the flavors? As it turns out, Bahama Buck's offers something that Mam's House of Ice doesn't, despite the latter's extensive menu: horchata-flavored snow-ice. I opted to add sweetened condensed milk to really amp up the flavor, and the girl behind the counter offered a final piece of advice as I did: "I like it with cinnamon-sugar on top," she smiled. As with the fluffy ice at Mam's, the so-called "Sno" at Bahama Buck's is very finely textured, allowing the cinnamon flavor of the horchata to penetrate each bite of shaved ice. The sugar on top was the perfect topping to a perfectly Houstonian beverage. I predict the sweet, creamy, snowy treat will be the drink of the summer—even if it's still only January.

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