The Nation's Best Ice Cream and Gelato Shops

Move over, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. The world's most-delicious dessert is showing up in shops from coast to coast in delectable flavors like salted caramel, Prosecco, roasted banana and beyond.

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And ice cream is just the beginning. A new generation of inspired artisans is whipping up silky gelatos, creamy sorbets — even soft-serve creations — with the dedication to fresh ingredients of five-star chefs. Whether you like yours in a cone, cup or piled high in a sundae, there's no happier food for a hot summer's day. Here's where to get the sweetest scoops across the country.

Locals flock to this mom and pop mini chain for its super-smooth, made-from-scratch offerings served in delicious waffle cones still warm from the press. Though varieties like Chocolate Peanut Butter and Pecan Praline are steady crowd-pleasers, the real draw here is the inventive flavors: Sweet Corn, Coconut Jalapeño and Krispy Kreamier (an ingenious concoction that tastes just like the namesake doughnuts). Got kids in tow? Order up a Dirt 'n' Worms sundae made with a scoop of creamy vanilla, Oreo cookie crumbs and gummy worms.



Cambridge, MA 060412 Frozen confections from gourmet ice cream shop Toscanini's in Central Square in Cambridge, MA photographed on June 4, 2012 for an upcoming GQ magazine note/ article. (photographer: Essdras M Suarez/EMS Photography)Freelance

Photo by: Essdras M Suarez ©Essdras M Suarez/ EMS Photography

Essdras M Suarez, Essdras M Suarez/ EMS Photography

Boston: Toscanini's Ice Cream

There's often a line at this Central Square institution, but that's a good thing, as you'll need the waiting time to get a handle on the irresistible selection of gourmet tastes on offer. Choose from an ultra-chocolatey Cocoa Pudding, a remarkably pure French Vanilla or a kicky Ginger Snap Molasses, among the several dozen varieties in regular rotation. Samples of the pillowy-soft blends are given generously. Word up: The Burnt Caramel is a perennial favorite with the neighborhood Harvard and MIT crowd.

Chicago: Black Dog Gelato

The Whiskey Gelato Bar is the way to go at this pair of charming Windy City sweet shops. Dipped in a crisp shell of milk chocolate, then rolled in salty bits of bacon, the grown-up treat is a creamy liquor-infused flavor bomb. In the mood for a cone? Try a scoop of Blueberry French Toast or the lush Goat Cheese Cashew Caramel. Owner Jessie Oloroso got her start selling at a local farmers market, and fresh herbs and seasonal produce are the building blocks of many of her most-popular creations. Exhibit A: The delectable Sesame Fig Chocolate Chip gelato. A word to the wise: Store hours vary, so call before visiting.

Columbus, Ohio: Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream

Jeni Britton Bauer's ice cream is (thankfully!) available by the carton in gourmet shops around the country, but nothing beats the experience of a freshly scooped cone at one of her three signature Columbus shops. From The Milkiest Chocolate in the World ice cream to Cherry Lambic sorbet, the ultra-silky texture of her seasonally inspired selections continues to wow. The secret? Milk from grassfed cows, peak and locally sourced ingredients, and a pasteurization process that keeps the temperatures low for improved taste. That's all beside the point when you are faced with the impossible task of choosing between an Orchid Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich and a build-your-own sundae featuring toppings like sesame seed clusters, honey butterscotch sauce and roasted strawberries. You'll be a winner, whichever way you go.

Dallas: Sweet Firefly

At this cute neighborhood spot, the friendliness of the owners earns almost as many raves as the delicious homemade ice creams and sorbets. Order up a scoop of the signature Coffee Toffee Crunch or one of the refreshing New Orleans-style SnoBalls (an addicting confection of shaved ice, ice cream and condensed milk with flavorings like Bubble Gum and Granny Smith). The little ones will be entertained by the kid-friendly chalkboard and shelves filled with jars of old-fashioned penny candy. Don't forget to pick up a bag of the locally made toffee on your way out!

Denver: Little Man Ice Cream

Housed in a 28-foot steel replica of an old-fashioned milk can, this local favorite in the historic Highland neighborhood is hard to miss. In summer, the line can snake down the block, and scoring a seat on the patio is a major feat. But even in January's frigid cold, the devoted come out for their fix of silky, artisanal-style ice cream made with ingredients sourced from surrounding farms. The daily-changing menu varies widely: Fluffernutter and Salted Oreo are always sure bets. And you can go ahead and order that double dip without guilt because for every scoop of ice cream sold, Little Man promises to donate a scoop of rice or beans to a village in a developing country.

Detroit: Guernsey Farms Dairy

Battered onion rings, homemade soup and roasted chicken are all on the menu at this family-run institution, but the star attraction is the supremely fresh ice cream. Made onsite in the dairy's processing plant, the chilled treat comes in 48 flavors, both classic (Mint Chip, Praline Pecan) and new (Grandpa's Blueberry Way, a lip-smacking mélange of blueberries, pomegranate and chocolate chips). If it's a sunny day, do like the locals: Buy a cone at the to-go shop, then grab a spot on a rock under the big tree.

Tucked in an out-of-the way strip mall, this tiny cash-only joint has been serving up icy-cool scoops of deliciousness for more than 20 years. The butter pecan — chock-full of whole meaty Texas nuts — is legendary. The Banana Pudding, flavored with chunks of Nilla wafers, runs a close second. Even the more offbeat seasonal flavors such as Sweet Potato, Creamed Corn and Cotton Candy have loyal followings. Need proof? Just check out the wall of fame featuring photographs of Beyoncé, George Foreman, the Houston Rockets and many other well-known Hank's fans.

Photo by: Emily Hart Photography

Emily Hart Photography

Los Angeles: Sweet Rose Creamery

The SRC Bacon Caramel Sundae is a gorgeous sight to behold: Picture snowy mounds of vanilla ice cream, fresh organic whipped cream, a glistening drizzle of Bourbon-Bacon Caramel Sauce and a cap of deep mahogany candied bacon strips. Be sure to grab one if it's on the menu. For more modest appetites, Executive Chef Shiho Yoshikawa whips up seasonal scoops of Rose Geranium with Raspberry Ripple ice cream, and Olive Oil and Strawberry Rhubarb sorbet. Think hard before your turn at the counter — when the lines grow long, there's a limit of two free samples per customer.

Miami: The Frieze Ice Cream Factory

People-watching in South Beach can't be topped, and there's no better way to do it than by strolling Lincoln Road — preferable with a cool treat from Frieze in your hand. Located in a modest storefront just off the main strip, this dessert nirvana offers a variety of smooth, frosty ice creams, though in-the-know locals swear the sorbets — made with real seasonal fruit — are the standouts. Top picks include the light, refreshing Watermelon, elegant Champagne and mild, perfume-y Lychee. Try them all together for a tasty triple play.

Photo by: Donny Tsang

Donny Tsang

New York: Big Gay Ice Cream Shop

Stepping into one of these new wave soft-serve stores is like walking into a party: dance music blaring while the chatty crowd of young and old compares notes and recommendations on the tongue-in-cheek menu. First-time visitors are directed to the Salty Pimp, a vanilla cone that is coated and injected with dulce de leche, sprinkled with sea salt, then dipped into chocolate. The more experienced design their own masterpieces from the four rotating ice cream flavors and many unusual toppings — think Wasabi Pea Dust, Ginger Syrup and Awesomesauce, a potent mix of cayenne-spiced fudge.

Philadelphia: Capogiro Gelato Artisans

Capogiro means "dizziness" in Italian, and that's what this intensely flavorful gelato has been inducing in fans for more than a decade. Made fresh every morning, the rotating selection of 27 flavors (out of more than 360) is keyed to the seasons — think juicy Lancaster County Peach in summer, rich Black Walnut in the fall. Before heading out to one of the company's four cafes, check out the website listing the daily offerings for each. And if you can't get the thought of that heavenly Wildflower Honey Gelato out of your head, no worries: The owners ship overnight to all 50 states.

Phoenix: Churn

How do you improve on the Peanut Butter and Chocolate ice creams at this cute vintage-style candy shop? Order a scoop of each on a crunchy, salt-specked pretzel cone! Those in the mood for straight sweets can custom build an ice cream sandwich from a selection of fresh-baked cookies. And if the Arizona sun has got you parched, ask for a Caramel Apple Pie Float. Made with vanilla ice cream, cinnamon sugar, homemade salted caramel and apple soda, it's sure to hit the spot.

Portland, Ore.: Salt & Straw

There's something for every palate at this ice cream mecca. The adventurous will drool over innovative concoctions like Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper, Chocolate Blueberry Rice Krispies Treat and Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero ice cream. The straight-and-steady visitors will beg for seconds of the Chocolate and Gooey Brownies and Cinnamon Snickerdoodle. Made with 17 percent butterfat and very little air in the churn process, these major-league ice creams, which change with the seasons, are soft, buttery and just sweet enough. No matter what flavor you order, skip the cup: The housemade cones are too good to pass up.

San Francisco: Bi-Rite Creamery

First the good news: The rich, custardy, achingly good ice cream at Bi-Rite will be among the best you'll taste in your lifetime. Now the bad news: Lines can last up to an hour. Do not be discouraged. The dense, creamy and complex Salted Caramel — one of the company's best (and most-imitated) flavors — is absolutely worth the wait. Other winners on the ever-changing roster of flavors: Toasted Coconut, Cara Cara Orange Cardamom and Malted Vanilla. Can't stand the wait? Skip the lines and pick up some pre-packed pints of the ice cream at one of the Bi-Rite Markets.

St. Louis: Ted Drewes Frozen Custard

Sundaes, floats, sodas and cones — there are many items on the menu at Ted Drewes, but there's only one thing to order, and that's the legendary Concrete. Made of silky-smooth vanilla custard (which has less air and more butterfat than conventional ice cream), this Midwestern specialty is mixed up with toppings into an extremely thick shake. How thick, you ask? When servers hand you an order, they'll turn the cup upside down to prove your spoon and straw are firmly stuck inside. Mix-ins range from M&M's to pineapple. If you're stumped, a blend of Tart Cherries and Hot Fudge never disappoints. Check the website before visiting, as hours vary by season.

St. Paul: Izzy's Ice Cream Cafe

Call it an ice cream shop for the digital age: Every time a new flavor is added to the freezer case at this Twin Cities magnet, the information is automatically sent out via Twitter and email to thousands of followers. From a java-steeped Peace Coffee to a tangy Blackberry Crème Fraîche, the dozens of handmade varieties for sale are downright irresistible. Happily, you don't have to choose just one: Owner Jeff Sommers tops each cone with an extra 3/4-ounce mini scoop — called an "Izzy" — in a second flavor of your choice.

Washington, D.C.: Moorenko's Ice Cream Cafe

There's plenty of seating at this cheery suburban parlor, which is lucky, because you'll want to stop and savor every delicious spoonful of these artisanal blends. Honey Lavender, Red Hot Chocolate, Peach Melba, Rice Pudding — the flavors may change with the seasons, but the quality of these luscious desserts remains consistent.

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