Best Ice Cream Shops in NYC
Get the scoop on where to find great cones, shakes, sundaes and beyond in New York City.
Photo By: Alan Gastelum ©2014 Alan Gastelum ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Photo By: Susan Jo
Photo By: Donny Tsang
Mikey Likes it Ice Cream
This retro ice cream parlor has a sweeter story than most. Several years after Mike Cole was released from prison, an aunt he was close to passed away. As Cole cleaned out her apartment, he stumbled upon her recipe for homemade vanilla ice cream, and a business idea was born. Cole learned the trade and began whipping up hip-hop-inspired flavors including a riff on dulce de leche with Jay Z’s D’Usse cognac that ended up on the menu at the mogul’s 40/40 Club. Cole has since opened his own shop, to high praise. Creative flavors like Foxy Brown (mocha with crushed chocolate wafer cookies and sea salt caramel swirl) are served in cups, cones and chewy waffle sandwiches.
Momofuku Milk Bar
Cereal Milk may seem as common as chocolate or vanilla these days. For that, you can thank Momofuku Milk Bar founder Christina Tosi. The winner of multiple James Beard Awards debuted Cereal Milk soft serve when she opened her first bakery in 2008. (She now boasts nine locations in NYC alone.) Essentially, the brew combines corn flakes and brown sugar steeped in milk, strained and poured into a soft serve machine with a pinch of salt. The frozen concoction comes out slightly tangy, a little icy and tastes remarkably similar to the leftover milk at the bottom of a bowl of cornflakes. It’s served in a cup with a sweet and flaky cornflake crunch topping.
This Brooklyn-based ice cream shop does the artisanally minded borough proud, with locally sourced hormone- and additive-free ice cream that is pasteurized in-house. The Williamsburg flagship offers 12 flavors of ice cream and sorbet as well as a selection of banana splits, sundaes — particularly excellent with Mast Brothers hot fudge or the signature Salted Caramel — an ice cream sandwich and the Cotton Candy Cone. Choices range from time-honored Tahitian vanilla, strawberry and Neapolitan to innovative, exotic choices like Cornbread, Miso-Cherry, Foie Gras and Maple-Bacon-Pecan. The new East Village storefront is slightly smaller, with eight alternating ice creams and sorbets.
Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream
This Lower East Side shop has brought the traditional ice cream parlor into the 21st century. A classically trained pastry chef and successful restaurateur, Nick Morgenstern highlights variations on individual flavors. Though simple Madagascar vanilla is available, the flavor appears elsewhere on the menu paired with bourbon, burnt honey, apple brandy, angel food or peppermint. Chocolate can be scooped as regular, bitter, salted or spiced with Szechuan peppercorns. Straying from the classic bases, Salt-and-Pepper Pine Nut and Fernet-Black Walnut are wholly inventive and refreshing. Go for a simple scoop or try the Salted Caramel Pretzel, a heaping pile of salted caramel ice cream mixed with caramel cakes and pretzel crunch, topped with whipped cream and caramel sauce.
Il Laboratorio del Gelato
The title of this Lower East Side shop is appropriate in more ways than one. The brightly lit, austere white space looks like a lab. With a growing list of more than 300 flavors, and it really is like a scientific testing room, where chefs work to develop unprecedented flavors. Jon Snyder, the man who spread the gospel of artisanal gelato to America with the creation of Ciao Bella Gelato, founded the shop as a way to continue the chef-driven, bespoke-flavor endeavor he started with his former brand back in the 1980’s. Results include classic and wholly unique frozen picks like wasabi, sage, white peppercorn and nutmeg.
Davey's Ice Cream
The excitement of this East Village shop starts at the street, with a brightly colored, vintage-style sign. The retro vibe continues to the exposed-brick walls, wooden counter and marble floors inside. Yet the product is anything but old-fashioned. There’s Asian-inspired Black Sesame, Whiskey Cinnamon Bun, with booze-glazed breakfast pastries and a blackberry swirl, and Ultra Babka, featuring baked chocolate and cinnamon bread from Moishe’s Bake Shop down the street. Everything on the menu can be converted into the customizable ice cream sandwiches, each rolled in your choice of topping. If you aim for nostalgia, sundaes and banana splits come piled high with all the right ingredients to have a good time. Each batch is made 100 percent from scratch, with dairy from local Battenkill Valley Creamery, in a four-day-long production process.
Emack & Bolio’s
Music attorney Bob Rook opened this eco-friendly ice cream shop in Boston back in 1975. It started as a place that musicians could go after shows (clubs closed at midnight) to chill out and quench their munchies. Fans included well known artists and bands like Aerosmith, James Brown, Al Green and U2. Much has changed since then — the UWS location is constantly packed with kids, not partying rock stars — but the hippy approach to frozen treats has remained unchanged. Organic, hormone-free ingredients are used in more than 40 groovy flavors such as Trippin’ on Espresso, S’Moreo and “Deep Purple” Chip, black raspberry ice cream dotted with white and dark chocolate chips. These far-out blends taste (and look) best in the mini-chain’s colorful cereal- and candy-covered cones.
Ample Hills Creamery
Named for a passage in Walt Whitman’s famous poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Ample Hills Creamery opened with the stated goal of creating a community through ice cream. And it worked. At its Prospect Heights shop (and now its locations in Gowanus, Red Hook and Brooklyn Bridge Park, as well as in Manhattan, Orlando and Los Angeles), locals converge over scoops of cleverly concocted flavors like Ooey Gooey Butter Cake and the Munchies, a sweet-salty bonanza of pretzel-infused ice cream with Ritz crackers, potato chips, pretzels and mini M&M's. Signature items include the perfectly named Salted Crack Caramel, salted caramel ice cream with chunks of chocolate-covered crackers, and Sweet as Honey, a sweet cream base dotted with honeycomb candy. The heavenly results are ethically conscious, as well: All eggs are cage-free, and dairy is free from hormones or other unwanted additives.
Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Co.
Fruit, water and just a touch of organic cane sugar are all that go into Chloe’s soft-serve machine. Founded by Chloe Epstein, a mother of three, former attorney and self-proclaimed fro-yo addict, the business was created to satisfy cravings for frozen yogurt without the artificial ingredients. Made from a sweet banana base, the flavors include dark chocolate made with actual cacao (a fruit in case you were wondering) along with 14 seasonal varieties including strawberry, mango, banana, pumpkin, cranberry and plum. It’s creamy and sweet, with less than half the sugar of gelato or sorbet.
Whether or not you feel guilt about indulging in sugary frozen dairy, this Brooklyn-based creamery is all about making your heart feel good. The eco-conscious shop and wholesale supplier is a certified Benefit Corporation, meaning it meets the highest standard of social and environmental performance. Organic dairy from upstate New York is melded with premium ingredients like fair-trade chocolate and pesticide-free, peak-season strawberries for classic flavors. More recently, the brand launched a new line of chef-driven flavors by Susan Jo, including elegant lavender-olive oil and seasonally inspired Spookypolitan, a tie-dyed blend of pumpkin, ube and charcoal chocolate that’s oddly reminiscent of hot cocoa and warm holiday pie.
Big Gay Ice Cream
What started off as two guys and a soft-serve truck has since morphed into two NYC storefronts, a cookbook, and locations in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. The company has built a reputation for its excellent, modern interpretations of classic soft-serve, and for its interesting and well-named topping combinations. Expect to see treats like the Bea Arthur: vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche and crushed Nilla wafers. Monday Sundae plunks a swirl of chocolate and vanilla swirl into a Nutella-lined cone with dulce de leche, sea salt and whipped cream on top. Shakes and floats come in flavors like Tang-Creamsicle, Ginger-Curry, Horchata and Chai. Crowds have thronged from day one, but in 2013 owners Douglas Quint and Bryan Petroff reinvented the formula with organic, humane and sustainable products from Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, for an even better — and ethically sound — end result.
This Insta-famous soft-serve specialist is known for its hypercolor swirls. Jet black or vibrant red cones are filled with equally vivid swirls of ube purple yam, matcha green tea, black sesame or macapuno coconut ice cream. These creations certainly are camera-ready, but there’s substance to back up the pics. Flavors are bold yet refreshing, with a rich and creamy texture. The colorful toppings — from toasted almonds and freeze-dried strawberries to cereal marshmallows and fruity pebbles — jack up the sweetness. Guests can opt for DIY combinations or pick Swerve Specials like the Jersey City, a swirl of coconut and ube purple yam coated with toasted coconut and dotted with mochi.
This Chinatown ice cream shop opened its doors in early 2016, with lines down the block despite 10-degree weather. The shop serves a selection of scoops and soft-serve in modern American and Asian-influenced flavors like strawberry cheesecake, pumpkin, cherry blossom and Earl Grey tea coated with unlimited toppings (think: crushed Oreos and Pocky) and drizzles (chocolate syrup and Vietnamese coffee). What’s really special is the vessel. Owners Mike Tan and David Lin worked through a long trial-and-error process to perfect their egg waffle cones. Those sweet pyramids are based off the partners' favorite childhood treat, the lofty spherical Hong Kong waffle they ate as kids from a famous street stand located just down the block from their Chinatown storefront.
Thai-inspired ice cream can now be found at shops all around the five boroughs, but this Chinatown shop kicked off the craze. Just watching the process justifies the perpetually long lines. A thin layer of Creme Anglaise is spread onto an electro-thermal cold plate dialed down to (as the title suggests) 10 degrees below zero. During the two-minute freezing process, flavorful ingredients (think: strawberry, green tea and Oreos) are chopped and folded into the mix, which is then scraped into rolls, placed into a cup and covered with unlimited choice of toppings. Lose yourself in the healthy-sounding Get Avo-Control, an unusual albeit delicious mix of fresh avocado and Himalayan sea salt thatâs best topped off with fresh strawberries and blueberries for, you know, some added nutrients.
The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
Owned and operated by the Seid family for nearly three decades, the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is one of the oldest continually running restaurants in Manhattan’s most-bustling cultural enclave. Though there are classic flavors like Rocky Road, Pumpkin Pie and Strawberry, many take a cue from the shop’s neighborhood and include a Chinese twist. Freshen your palate with sweet lychee, or try Almond Cookie, Black Sesame, Green Tea, Taro Root and the excellent Don Tot (egg custard). If you’re feeling adventurous, go for the durian, the notorious stink fruit that’s so aromatic it’s been banned from Singapore public transportation. It’s a real treat.
Part cocktail lounge, part ice cream shop, this ice cream “barlour” debuted in the spring of 2017. Boozy flavors nod to the full spectrum of adult beverages. Available in scoops, ice cream sandwiches and ice cream cakes, options range from hearty “hot” buttered rum, maple-bacon-bourbon and chocolate stout and pretzel, along with lighter sorbets like mango margarita, strawberry white sangria and raspberry limoncello. Just don’t expect to bring the little ones along for a cone — owner Melissa Tavss’ shop really is a 21-and-up concept, with scoops intended to give patrons a buzz. With ABV just below 5% (about the same alcohol content as a Bud Light) they leave patrons feeling good in more ways than one.
Ice & Vice
Paul Kim and Ken Lo started off slinging handcrafted ice cream out of a smart cart at outdoor markets, eventually opening this edgy ice cream parlor on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the summer of 2015. They have since joined the ranks of NYC’s most-experimental ice cream innovators, offering a constantly rotating array of bold flavor combinations. One of the debut combinations, Mahjong, merged Chinese and Belgian staples with a mix of jasmine tea, white peach and lambic in a refreshing sorbet. Another seasonal option, the cheeky pumpkin-free PSL, blends autumn-inspired pecan, sorghum and latte toffee.
While writing her cookbook, My Sweet Mexico, Pastry Chef Fany Gerson spent a year researching and traveling around her home country, sampling her way through the excellent array of frozen treats and sweets. It was a life-changing experience that Gerson wanted to share with New Yorkers. She started by selling a handful of different paletas, Mexico’s beloved fruit-filled popsicles, in flavors like mango-chile, hibiscus and avocado at outdoor markets around the city. Then, she opened her West Village brick-and-mortar, selling paletas as well as Mexican ice cream (similar to gelato with tropical flair) and nieve de garrafa, a traditional ice cream that paddled by hand and served fresh.
Sundaes and Cones
The interior of this East Village ice cream parlor feels like it’s been plucked straight from the pages of a shabby-chic magazine. Dark-gray wainscoting capped with a stark white chair rail gives the place a feminine tea-party mystique. The old-fashioned white benches out front are ideal for alfresco feasting. The cases in the back of the space house a rainbow-colored assortment of goods: deep-hued Chocolate, espresso-swirled Tiramisu, yellow Corn, aromatic Lavender. In addition to the proprietary selections, the shop also features a wide array of Asian-inspired flavors, including Red Bean, Mango, Taro and the highly regarded Black Sesame.
New Jersey gets a lot of attention for its Italian restaurants, but Brooklyn has long lured cannoli cravers who are in the know. In 1976, three Italian brothers opened a bakery in Williamsburg’s Italian district; it became a staple in a sea of change. The neighborhood has grown from a blue-collar hub to the hippest in the city, yet Fortunato’s is still beloved. The shop serves an excellent selection of authentic cookies, cakes and pastries — including standard-setting cannoli. The gelato is much the same: You won’t find any newfangled flavors or techniques, but you will find luscious frozen treats to rival the best in the boot. From Vanilla to Chocolate-Hazelnut and chip-studded Stracciatella, the gelato here is like a true taste of la dolce vita.
Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream
If the ice cream man went back in time a half-century — before the hormones, antibiotics and highly processed foods — he would likely serve Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. With six old-fashioned trucks and four apothecary-style stores spread throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan, these scoop shops of yesteryear serve products made from scratch in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The dairy is the highest quality. All the other ingredients (cane sugar, egg yolks, fruit, chocolates, spices and nuts) are sourced from small-scale producers in NYC and beyond. Options are simple yet sophisticated, with flavors such as Pistachio, Ginger, Earl Grey Tea, and Currants and Cream. A vegan line includes options like Mint Chocolate Chip, Salted Caramel and Coffee Crunch. There are no stabilizers, gums or thickeners, just top-notch organic coconut milk and cashew milk as the base.
The city’s most-authentic Italian gelato fittingly comes from the motherland itself. The West Village outpost of the Turin-based chain uses ancient, time-tested methods to create its authentic scoops, all without any colorings, unnatural flavoring agents, emulsifiers or preservatives — just high-quality milk and eggs. Owners Federico Grom and Guido Martinetti scour the world to find the best ingredients possible, including fresh fruit from the company’s own farm. Nuts, chocolate and coffee come from top-notch producers, meaning a Pistachio that’s nuttier and richer than the competition, and a Dark Chocolate deeply flavored with Venezuelan Ocumare. The coffee tastes like a creamy cup of espresso, a fitting tribute to Grom’s homeland.
Eddie's Sweet Shop
Decorated with antique-influenced tin ceilings, hexagonal floor tiles and early 20th-century-style menus, old-fashioned ice cream parlors are a growing trend in NYC. Eddie’s Sweet Shop, however, is purely original. This Forest Hills, Queens, storefront has been serving scoops for nearly a century. Some new flavors have been introduced, and the prices have certainly changed, but much has remained the same, including the ambiance. And apart from a few new introductions, most of the recipes go back 100 years. Scoops range from Butter Pecan, Vanilla and Rum Raisin to Cherry Vanilla, Coffee Chip and Maple Walnut. The portions are massive, but for even more, try the Banana Royal: three huge scoops of whatever ice cream you like, with sliced banana, your syrup of choice, a lofty layer of homemade whipped cream, sprinkles, nuts and a cherry on top, served in a fluted oblong dish.
Milk Sugar Love
This Jersey City ice cream parlor is named for its three primary ingredients, give or take some Earl Grey and fudge in one, and lemon and olive oil in another. Ginger ice cream, swirled with mandarin sorbet, goes into the Ginger Creamsicle. And then there’s the Honey Lavender. Each unique flavor combination is made by hand from organic milk and cream, as well as the best produce the Garden State has to offer. Twelve rotating flavors are offered daily, along with a handful of mainstays. And the sundaes are flawless. Toppings span from classic chocolate sauce to vanilla cake bites and chocolate cookie crumbles. Build one yourself or opt for the monthly sundae collaborations, available on weekends. Those include selections like the Roman Nose Authentic Italian Kitchen, a combination of Honeyed Ricotta ice cream, amaretto cookie crunch, Mast Brothers dark chocolate shavings, strawberry balsamic sauce, local honey, fresh mint and whipped cream.