Top chefs pick their favourite ice cream in America
A scoop of ice cream, in any flavour is a satisfying thing, however what separates the simply serviceable from the sensational seems to fall into two categories beyond cup or cone: incredible craft or pure nostalgia.
What’s the first thing you think of when someone says ice cream? Some people envision a cone piled high with scoops, dripping dangerously down their hands. Others conjure up an ice cream parlour sundae, crowned with hot fudge and whipped cream. Still others will flash to a museum, where they can take 1,000 selfies in a pool full of sprinkles.
All of this is often followed by a smile—and a moan about immediately wanting some.
Americans consume more than 23 pounds of ice cream a year, on average(1). The more they eat, the more they tend to crave, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Maybe that explains the lines you see on any given night outside a Salt & Straw outpost in Seattle or Morgenstern’s Finest in downtown New York—two of my own favourites that didn’t make this highly personal and passionately argued list below.
We polled 27 chefs, pastry experts, and restaurateurs across the country for their top spots. And though a scoop—any scoop, really—is a satisfying thing, what separates the simply serviceable from the sensational seems to fall into two categories beyond cup or cone: incredible craft or pure nostalgia. Whether it’s a New England farm or a Midwestern custard stand, here are their ice cream dream destinations in all their sticky, sweet, frozen glory.
Van Leeuwen, New York (and Los Angeles)
What to order: Vegan Brownie Deluxe
Why: Star chef - Rocco DiSpirito’s favorite “New York artisanal brand” started as a roving food truck over a decade ago and now has multiple outposts around Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles, as well as pre-packed pints in nationwide grocery stores such as Whole Foods. Among their signature flavors are a luxurious honeycomb studded with crunchy sweet bits and an assortment of cashew milk-based selections for people opting out of dairy. “The one that I love is the vegan brownie deluxe,” says DiSpirito. Or, when it’s available, the strikingly green-colored Planet Earth, an unconventional option that uses seaweed as its secret ingredient.—Recommended by Rocco DiSpirito, chef at the Standard Grill in New York
L&B Spumoni Gardens, Brooklyn, N.Y.
What to order: Spumoni
Why: In the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, L&B may be famed for its square Sicilian pizza squares, but its old-school ice cream comes in a close second. “I like spumoni anywhere,” says chef Gary Brooks of the multilayered and multiflavored gelato with candied fruits and nuts. “But this one is pretty special. It’s crazy looking—I don’t even want to know how they get that bright neon green coloring—and crazy good. It was the inspiration for the very different spumoni semifreddo that we run at my Pizzeria Toro during cherry season.”—Recommended by Gray Brooks, chef/owner of Pizzeria Toro, Littler, and Jack Tar & the Colonel’s Daughter in Durham, N.C.
OddFellows Ice Cream Co., New York
What to order: Thai iced tea ice cream sandwich
Why: The texture is really what sets Oddfellows’s ice cream apart, says pizza maestro Matthew Hyland. “It has just the right amount of creaminess. The vanilla is the best I have ever had, but I’m always impressed with their flavors—like an intense Thai iced tea. It’s refreshing and not syrupy or sticky and a little different, especially when you make it into an ice cream sandwich.”—Recommended by Matthew Hyland, chef/co-owner of Emmy Squared, Emmy, and Violet in New York
Mr. Softee Ice Cream, New York metro area
What to order: Vanilla with rainbow sprinkles
Why: “The simplicity and nostalgia of Mr. Softee ice cream wins out for me,” says chef Aaron Fitterman. “Growing up in the South Shore of Long Island, right by the local school, there was nothing better than seeing the ice cream truck. The choices were narrow: chocolate or vanilla soft serve, with rainbow, chocolate, or cherry sprinkles. My favorite to this day is vanilla swirled on a sugar cone, dipped in rainbow sprinkles.”—Recommended by Aaron Fitterman, executive chef at Aretsky’s Patroon in New York
Springers, Stone Harbor, N.J.
What to order: The Blue One
Why: “In Stone Harbor, where my wife grew up, Springers is a seasonal ice cream shop that specializes in fun and unique flavors,” says chef Matt Abdoo. “My favorite is the Blue One, which is blue vanilla ice cream with cookie dough and cookies and cream.” —Recommended by Matt Abdoo, chef at Pig Beach in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Kimball Farm, Jaffrey, N.H.
What to order: Peach
Why: “When I’m in New Hampshire, I’m a huge fan of Kimball Farm,” says Michelin-starred chef Gabriel Kreuther. “They’ve been in business for over 80 years and have an incredible selection of more than 50 flavors. I have several favorites—butterscotch, s’mores, butter pecan, black raspberry—but my favorite is peach.”—Recommended by Gabriel Kreuther, chef /co-owner of Gabriel Kreuther restaurant and the Grand Salon at the Baccarat Hotel in New York
Schoolhouse Ice Cream, Harwich Port, Mass.
What to order: Mint chocolate chip
Why: Chef Jared Wentworth’s favorite ice cream parlor “embodies summertime—to me and thousands of others who are from or visit Cape Cod. Fresh baked cones and awesome sundaes make this shop a must-stop destination after beach days, dinners, or hot nights. Their mint chocolate chip sees a lot of action from me.”—Recommended by Jared Wentworth, executive chef at the Dining Room at Moody Tongue in Chicago
Sully’s Ice Cream Stand, Chelmsford, Mass.
What to order: Black raspberry chip
Why: Family-owned and -operated for 35 years, Sully’s has more than 100 flavors, including chocolate marshmallow, rum raisin, and a can’t-miss black raspberry chip. “I’ve been coming here for most of my life with my parents, grandparents, and friends,” says chef Abe Conlon. “Handmade cones, cups, and to-go portions are huge and made from high-quality dairy. Nobody does ice cream like New England, and Sully’s is one of the best.”—Recommended by Abe Conlon, chef /co-owner of Fat Rice in Chicago
Two Roosters, Raleigh, N.C.
What to order: Roasted strawberry and honey
Why: Using local milk and cream, this North Carolina shop makes superb standards such as sea salt chip cookie dough, but chef Sean Fowler name-checks a different high-achieving scoop. “The roasted strawberries give an unexpected richness and depth,” but it’s the local honey that’s an unexpected cherry on top that you didn’t even know that you needed, he says.—Recommended by Sean Fowler, chef at Mandolin in Raleigh, N.C.
Ice Cream Jubilee, Washington
What to order: Bold vanilla
Why: After taking an ice cream seminar at Penn State University, corporate lawyer Victoria Lai committed herself to the craft. She now has a handful of locations around the Washington area and has attracted devoted fans such as chef Kyle Bailey, who goes to the Navy Yard location. “Ice Cream Jubilee is known for fun flavors like cardamom black pepper and basil goat cheese. But my go-to is the bold vanilla,” he says. “I appreciate when people do the classics the right way.”—Recommended by Kyle Bailey, executive chef at the Salt Line in Washington
Piccola Gelateria, New Orleans
What to order: Pistachio
Why: When taste-testing gelato across Italy, chef Alon Shaya always goes for pistachio. “The colour and texture has to be right, and all good gelaterie use very high-quality pistachios from Sicily,” says Shaya. But it’s in America that the husband-wife team of Ross and Ria Turnbull make the best pistachio gelato he’s ever had. “Ross is a former chef, and he uses over 13 kinds of sugar, depending on the gelato and sorbetto he’s making.”—Recommended by Alon Shaya, chef/co-owner of Shaya, Saba, and Safta in New Orleans
The Creole Creamery, New Orleans
What to order: Chocolate
Why: As owner of one of New Orleans’s most classic restaurants, it may be no surprise that Ralph Brennan picks another city staple as his favourite. “It’s a traditional-style ice cream parlour... and I’m a huge ice cream fan. They have a diverse offering of flavors, but everyone knows I do not need much tempting when chocolate ice cream or a chocolate milkshake is nearby for the indulging.”—Recommended by Ralph Brennan, owner of Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group in New Orleans
The Original Rainbow Cone, Chicago
What to order: The Classic Rainbow
Why: “The Original Rainbow Cone is just one of those Chicago South Side staples that I loved so much as a kid growing up and still do today,” says chef Joe Flamm. “They’re only open in the summer, so once it finally got hot out, you knew it was time for a classic rainbow cone”—a heady combo of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (vanilla with walnuts and cherries), pistachio, and orange sherbet. “It’s one of my favorite summer traditions. I’m excited to share it with my newborn son, but I have to wait until he’s old enough.” —Recommended by Joe Flamm, winner of Bravo’s Top Chef, season 15
The Creamery, Frankfort, Ill.
What to order: The Oreo Blaster
Why: Chef Ross Henke’s hometown favourite is the quintessential small-town ice cream shop—and “also the spot to take first dates back in the day. I used to love stopping there after football and baseball games, and my go-to order was always the Oreo Blaster, which is their version of Dairy Queen’s Blizzard.”—Recommended by Ross Henke, executive chef at Quiote in Chicago
Shamrock Dairy Bar, Bay City, Mich.
What to order: Butter pecan
Why: “The Shamrock Dairy Bar has my heart,” says chef Harley Peet of his first employer. “I was a scooper. To this day, I still dream about the butter pecan ice cream. I’m not a scooper anymore, but I sure do enjoy a scoop—or two—from time to time.”—Recommended by Harley Peet, executive chef at Bas Rouge in Easton, Md.
Kopp’s Frozen Custard, Milwaukee metro area
What to order: Cashew caramel
Why: Wisconsin is frozen custard country, and in Milwaukee, there’s no greater rivalry than Kopp’s vs. Leon’s. James Beard-winning chef Tony Mantuano is on Team Kopp’s. “They post the entire month’s flavors on the first of every month,” he says, with cashew caramel always winning out when it’s in daily rotation. Open since 1950, the shop’s ordering system is half the fun. “They announce when your order number is ready over the PA system—and what color microphone to come to pick up at. All the counter workers step up to their microphone and call out orders.”—Recommended by Tony Mantuano, chef/partner at Spiaggia in Chicago
Connie’s Frozen Custard, Houston
What to order: Pretzel Caramel Crunch
Why: A giant, frozen, custard-filled cone announces Connie’s drive-through, which specializes in the super-dense frozen dessert that is made hourly. “At Connie’s Frozen Custard, the Pretzel Caramel Crunch is my jam,” says chef Carlos Cruz. “When I was younger, we would go out there whenever one of us could get someone to drive. Not all of us would have vehicles, so we would pile up all together in one car and head out there.” —Recommended by Carlos Cruz, executive chef at the Promontory in Chicago
Sweet Sammies, Fort Worth
What to order: Coffee ice cream with Snickerdoodle cookies
Why: Simultaneously a cookie shop and an ice cream spot, this place gives customers the opportunity to create their own, limitless versions of ice cream sandwiches. Homemade cookie options include, of course, multiple flavours of chocolate chip, as well as black and whites; similarly, there are almost a dozen classic and unconventional ice cream choices. Texas hero chef Tim Love has a combo he swears by: two Snickerdoodle cookies with coffee ice cream in the middle. “It’s the absolute best.” —Recommended by Tim Love, chef at Lonesome Dove in Fort Worth and Austin and in Knoxville, Tenn.
Garden Creamery, San Francisco
What to order: Butter mochi with matcha
Why: “Garden Creamery in the Mission is definitely my favourite spot. The owners are from Hawaii, and the flavours are all unique and celebrate the cultural diversity of the islands,” says chef Ravi Kapur. Think butter mochi folded into matcha or coconut ice cream, or sticky rice in mango. “They make each ingredient from scratch, then add it to the small-batch ice cream they also make. Their flavours are the purest, textures on point, and they are unparalleled.” —Recommended by Ravi Kapur, chef/co-owner of Liholiho Yacht Club in San Francisco
Pinolo Gelato, Portland, Ore.
What to order: Affogato with straccietella Why: The small, Italy-evoking spot has become renowned in Portland for the quality of its gelato, which is made daily, and especially its bright, refreshing flavours, which veer from classic chocolate and Sicilian pistachio to less conventional offerings. Chef Ryan Roadhouse makes it a family affair. “My wife Elena loves the Spruce Tips. Our kids go for Fior Di Latte, and sometimes they’ll mix it up with a seasonal sorbet like lavender. I love the affogato, which I get with the Straccietella.” —Recommended by Ryan Roadhouse, chef and co-owner of Nodoguro in Portland, Ore.
Fosselman’s Ice Cream Co., Alhambra, Calif.
What to order: Cappuccino crunch
Why: The Alhambra ice cream store has been operated by the Fosselman family for 91 years. It still feels like an old-fashioned parlour, with classic prices. (A scoop of one of their four-dozen flavors is less than $3.) When chef Suzanne Tracht discovered it, she fell in love with it, so much so that she’s been serving her favourite Fosselman’s flavour—coffee-and-chocolatey cappuccino crunch—as well as their vanilla bean since she opened her restaurant, Jar, in 2001. “It still tastes exactly the same as it did 18 years ago. To this day, it’s my favourite restaurant delivery.”—Recommended by Suzanne Tracht, chef and co-owner of Jar in Los Angeles
Bi-Rite Creamery, San Francisco
What to order: Honey lavender, with olive oil and flaky salt
Why: Behind the mint green storefront of this offshoot of the Mission’s popular Bi-Rite Market, this retro-feeling spot makes every element of its product. Take the seasonal peach cobbler ice cream: Even the fruit jam and the buttery pastry are made in-house. Chef Alex Hong of Michelin-starred Sorrel restaurant gets one of the signatures, honey lavender, to which he adds toppings of olive oil and sea salt. “I add lots of flaky salt. It’s floral, salty, creamy, and savory, too,” he says.—Recommended by Alex Hong, chef at Sorrel in San Francisco
Mashti Malones, Los Angeles
What to order: Mashti (Persian ice cream sandwiches) with saffron ice cream
Why: “Mashti Malones has been in a strip mall on La Brea since before it was cool to be in a strip mall,” says chef Suzanne Goin, of her favorite spot with its four-leaf clover sign. “Legend has it [the owners] did not have much money when they moved here, so when they got the space—which was formerly an Irish place called Mugsy Malone’s—they just changed the first name on the sign to Mashti. There’s delicious rosewater sorbet, and lavender ice cream. I love the sour cherry with the rice noodles. But there are also traditional flavors that are insanely delicious,” like saffron, with Goin gets stuffed into an ice cream sandwich. —Recommended by Suzanne Goin, chef/co-owner of the Lucques Group in Los Angeles
Tasaki Guri-Guri, Maui
What to order: Pineapple and strawberry
Why: “I was born and raised in Hawaii, so every trip home means a stop at Tasaki Guri-Guri,” says chef Tiffany MacIsaac, which serves a cross between sherbet and ice cream. “I always get a three-scoop cup: two pineapple scoops and one strawberry. It’s a family business that’s been around for over 40 years. And the recipe is a family secret, so you know its the real deal.”—Recommended by Tiffany MacIsaac, chef/co-owner of Buttercream Bakeshop in Washington
Miminashi, Napa, Calif.
What to order: Soft serve, topped with sesame honeycomb
Why: Although Minimashi is known to most locals as a Japanese izakaya restaurant, it has a dedicated place that sells its soft serve outside dining room hours. (It’s called the “soft cream window.”) “They offer rotating flavors of soft serve, and I always check their website when I’m off work to see if black sesame or matcha is available,” says chef Dustin Falcon. “I get it topped with sesame honeycomb and Maldon salt in a waffle cone. It’s killer.” —Recommended by Dustin Falcon, executive chef at Niku Steakhouse in San Francisco
Jeni’s Ice Cream
What to order: Brown Butter Almond Brittle
Why: In 2002, Jenni Britto Bauer founded her ice cream line in her home state of Ohio. Since then, she’s built an empire around her supremely creamy product, with inspired flavours such as darkest chocolate and brambleberry crisp. Her pints are available at gourmet food stores, by mail order, and at several locations across the country. It’s a favourite of Atlanta chef Ford Fry. “I hit up the one at Krog Street Market. My favourite flavour is brown butter almond brittle because it’s subtly rich and combines salty, sweet, and crunchy.’ —Recommended by Ford Fry, chef and owner of Little Rey, the Optimist, and No. 246 in Atlanta
What to order: Vanilla soft serve cone
Why: “My first job was actually at a Baskin-Robbins, so ice cream is pretty nostalgic for me,” says L.A. star chef Sang Yoon. Although his favourite ice cream is in Japan, which you can find all over especially at convenience stores—“It’s special because they source the dairy from Hokkaido, and the simple flavours really let the taste of the milk come through”), when in the states, he loves a vanilla soft serve cone from McDonald’s. “It has a great texture and reminds me of my childhood.” —Recommended by Sang Yoon, chef/owner of Father’s Office in Los Angeles
(1) Even people on special diets find it hard to turn down ice cream. In 2018, the dairy-free ice cream market alone was valued at almost $456 million and is projected to grow 14.8% over the next seven years. The vegan ice cream business is expected to be valued at$2.45 billion by 2027, according to Technavio, a market research firm.
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.)