Helado Taiyaki Puts a Latin Twist on a Japanese Ice Cream Treat

Owner Linnette Lopez Torres incorporates ingredients and flavors from her upbringing for her own take on taiyaki.
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Helado Taiyaki’s ube soft-serve flavor with purple and gold sprinkles, marshmallows and Teddy Grahams. Mural by artist Taryn Nuñez. Photo by Jamie Coelho

Helado Taiyaki sits perched on the edges of Providence’s very-Italian neighborhood, Federal Hill’s Atwells Avenue. The Japanese-Latin fusion ice cream shop has found a home on the outskirts of the red, white and green striped street flanked by old-school red sauce restaurants and next to a Japanese hibachi steakhouse.

Owner Linnette Lopez Torres fills fish-shaped ice cream cones stuffed with fruit, warm cheese and custard — called taiyaki — with organic soft-serve swirls in all kinds of flavors from the usual vanilla and chocolate to Asian matcha (green tea) and purple ube (a flavor similar to sweet potato). The cones are topped with fun ingredients like rainbow sprinkles, marshmallows, Teddy Grahams, Maria cookie crumbles and Fruity Pebbles cereal, and sometimes even edible unicorn ears and horns.

Lopez Torres just opened the shop in mid-April and lines are still wrapping around the block for a taste of her riff on a traditional Japanese dessert with a Latin twist. The aquamarine and purple painted exterior often matches the vivid summer sunsets exploding in the background from high up on the Hill.

Lopez Torres still can’t believe the welcome reception she has received in the neighborhood. “It’s been a surreal experience. I thought I had an idea of how it was going to be received and the actual reception exceeded my expectations,” she says. “I am grateful and thankful to all those who have supported my small business. Their smiles make it all worth it.”

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The idea for her business evolved over time. Originally Lopez Torres thought she’d start a food truck on the savory side. She was working as a medication technician at a nursing home and going to CCRI for nursing when she decided to change careers after traveling. “The decision to become a mobile food vendor came to fruition in 2018 when visiting a local food truck event,” she says. “I originally wanted to incorporate my Latin roots with traditional chicken and waffles.”

She acquired a food truck in the summer of 2019, but it took a year to convert the truck into a mobile vendor and develop the branding. During that time, she veered into dessert after experiencing taiyaki and brainstorming ways to incorporate her Latin culture into it. “My happiest moments are when I’m traveling and I stumble upon something unique, new, fun and delicious and that’s what I wanted to bring to Lil Rhody,” she says. “I wanted to complement and elevate the already delicious taiyaki. I decided that if I was going to bring taiyaki back home, then I would have to do it my way, respectfully.”

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She put her own take on taiyaki by incorporating Latin ingredients she grew up with into the dessert. She named her business Helado Taiyaki, since helado means ice cream in Spanish, and officially launched the food truck in July of 2020. “I use ingredients that are familiar to me in my upbringing: guava, Maria cookies, dulce de leche, tres leche and Abuelita chocolate to name a few,” she says. “I also fill the taiyaki with guava and cream cheese which was inspired by my go-to Latin pastry.”

The organic soft-serve ice cream makes the treats even more special. “I was able to find a local supplier who happens to be the only organic soft-serve base manufacturer on the East Coast,” she says. “All of the flavors are made in house. We also rotate one of the flavors every week to bring a new experience to customers and to showcase my roots.”

She couldn’t have picked a better time to launch her bricks and mortar shop. People are eager to embrace treats that will make them smile after a tough year. “I wanted to bring something to Rhode Island that I enjoyed, that was unique, and I also wanted to share my experience with others,” she says.

See Instagram account for shop hours. Please note the shop will be closed June 21-29.

102 Dean St., Providence, instagram.com/helado_taiyaki

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