We’ve rounded up 58 spots for all manner of frozen treats—not just ice cream but everything from gelato to fro-yo, including Taiwanese shaved “snowflake ice” and even soft-serve, with delivery, for your pooch.
Ain’t She Sweet Cafe Bronzeville Cafe serving shakes, smoothies, and 12 kinds of ice cream in addition to sandwiches and panini. Confections include the Sweet Dreams: vanilla ice cream, orange sherbet, and OJ.
Anna Held The ambience trumps the ice cream at the soda fountain in the landmark pink Edgewater Beach apartment building, which first opened in 1927. The menu served at the original marble counter and a few tables includes a standard selection of Blue Bunny sundaes, splits, shakes, malts, and sodas, along with sandwiches, salads, and soups.
Baladoche Baladoche specializes in Belgian zucker waffles, about the size of your hand with pearl sugar mixed into the batter. Toppings include cinnamon sugar, chocolate, jam, Nutella, or the house gelato, available in seven flavors.
Bellezza Gelato Caffe When I paid a visit to this Harlem Avenue cafe it was so hot outside that everything was melting. Even so, my scoop of banana-caramel-praline gelato was one of the best I’ve had outside Italy. My second scoop—butter pecan—was just as good, with whole pecans sprinkled liberally throughout. There’s wide selection of gelati—for chocolate lovers there are two different choices, double-Dutch chocolate and dark chocolate-raspberry tartufo—as well as superaffordable coffee drinks and pastries.
Berry Chill The frozen yogurt at this trendy-looking River North spot is lactose- and gluten-free and chock-full of probiotics. To make it even healthier, there’s a wide selection of fresh fruit toppings. There are also cookies, candy, and granola, but the sweets taste sort of strange with the tangy yogurt. There are also locations at 132 N. LaSalle and 500 W. Madison, but according to a story in Crain’s, their fate is in question after the company’s April filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Bittersweet The delectable sweets by Judy Contino, former Ambria pastry chef and Lettuce Entertain You corporate pastry chef, are the attraction at this Lakeview bakery, and ice cream, made in-house year-round, is outstanding: “In my gastrocosmology,” wrote Reader critic Nicholas Day of the chocolate, “this is the ice cream that immediately precedes the rapture.”
Bobtail Soda Fountain There are 20 house-made ice cream flavors, plus two kinds of Italian ice, at this old-fashioned Lakeview soda fountain. There are also locations at Buckingham Fountain and 1114 Central, Wilmette.
The Brown Sack Malaika Marion’s “soup, sandwich, and shake shack” on the western fringe of Logan Square is a sunny, six-table destination for homestyle standards like the gooey grilled organic peanut butter, banana, and honey sandwich, a rich mac ‘n’ cheese, the meatball sub, the daunting Reuben, Goose Island root beer floats, and homemade ice cream sandwiches. The restaurant’s moving to a new location TBA this summer; look for expanded hours coming soon. Cash only.
Caffe Gelato This sleek family-run Ukrainian Village spot offers 18 seasonally rotated flavors, including bacio (chocolate hazelnut), frutti di bosco (berries), ananas (pineapple), and panna cotta. You can mix flavors or get your gelato fix in the form of a shake with a shot of espresso.
Canady le Chocolatier Primarily an outlet for the handmade chocolates of Michael Canady, Canady le Chocolatier also sells house-made gelato. The 12 daily flavors change regularly; on one visit I tried chocolate, burnt caramel, raspberry, and mascarpone. The creamy textures were right on, and the raspberry had bright fruit flavor, but the mascarpone was yogurty.
Cedar Crest Ice Cream The former Ben & Jerry’s now sells this Wisconsin-made ice cream in flavors like Coconut Joy and Chicago Dark Chocolate; fat-free and kosher versions are also available.
Cherubs This comfortable Logan Square deli and coffee shop has a cold case of Breyer’s in 16 mostly pedestrian flavors like chocolate and a not overly sweet strawberry, plus a coffee bar, sandwiches, fountain creations like a lovely coconut and pineapple smoothie served in a coconut-shell bowl, and a shifting menu of soups.
Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Edgebrook ice cream stand serving 52 varieties of Wisconsin’s Chocolate Shoppe ice cream and a frozen yogurt, plus Italian ice and sugar-free and soy versions. Cash or checks only.
Cloud 9 The production of the Taiwanese frozen sweet xua hua bing (“snowflake ice”)—a bowl of thin, mounded ribbons of sweet, soft, rapidly melting ice shaved at high speed from a spinning frozen cylinder—is an entertainment unto itself, and this Lincoln Park spot is so far the only place in town to offer it. Three to four monthly flavors can be topped by any combination of syrups, fruit purees, chopped nuts, or fresh fruit.
Cold Stone Creamery Mix-ins are the attraction at this outpost of the Tempe-based chain, where whatever you pick is folded into your ice cream before your eyes on a freezing cold granite slab. There’s a second location at 1611 Sherman, Evanston.
Dairy Star All the soft-serve at this Lincolnwood stand is kosher, and the stuff coming from the left nozzle in the machine closest to the west wall is cholov Yisroel, an even higher dietary standard. Business is strictly walk-up, but there are picnic tables where you can dig into your sundae. It’s the perfect place to go after 18 holes at the Bunny Hutch, the miniature golf course nearby. Cash only.
Dolce Casa Cafe Formerly Ventrella’s Caffe, this Lincoln Square storefront changed ownership in March but still offers coffee and espresso, panini, nine flavors of gelato crafted by a small-batch artisan in Michigan, and sorbet.
Drew’s Eatery This little organic hot dog and ice cream shop across from Welles Park has a kid-friendly menu of sausages and well-pedigreed sweets. The dogs come in pork, two different combos of chicken and turkey, and nitrite-free beef; there are also vegan versions of a Polish and an Italian sausage. Michigan-based Ashby’s Sterling provides terrific ice cream, and Chicago Soy Dairy makes the vegan frozen treats.
Edzo’s Burger Shop Burger places—and along with them hand-cut fries and shakes—are ubiquitous lately, but this Evanston storefront offers standout “$5 shakes”—usually just $4—including a chocolate-banana number and a Nutella malt, topped with whipped cream and a cherry.
Freddy’s Pizzeria The Zabar’s of Cicero offers dry goods such as olive oil and pasta, but the real attraction is an array of Italian ices and gelati, ethereally creamy and, like most offerings here, made in the back. Cash only.
New River North stop for frozen yogurt, smoothies, and “fresh pops,” house-made from fro-yo and fruit.
211 E. Ontario, 312-475-5831, freshberry.net.
George’s Ice Cream & Sweets This sweets shop in the former Sweet Occasions space offers more than 30 kinds of ice cream from Madison’s Chocolate Shoppe and specialty sundaes such as the Grasshopper—mint chip ice cream with Oreos and hot fudge.
Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop & Soda Fountain Great for a late-night fix downtown, but don’t go out of your way. The ice cream is unmemorable and the soda-fountain treats are merely adequate. During the day the store fills with tiny tourists clutching red bags from American Girl Place.
Gyood! New storefront offering lactose- and cholesterol-free soft-serve ice cream that’s supposed to be good for you; frozen desserts especially for Fido are also available. And they deliver.
Häagen-Dazs Cafe Navy Pier location of the ice cream chain. There are additional locations at O’Hare and in the Lincolnwood Town Center (3333 W. Touhy, Lincolnwood).
Hartigan’s Ice Cream Shoppe This long-running shop offers around 50 flavors of ice cream from Wisconsin’s Cedar Crest, which can be assembled into any of 16 sundaes. The peanut butter cup sundae is a full meal, with huge chunks of peanut butter cup, hot fudge, and real whipped cream; and a butt-buster sundae called Terry Bets U Can’t ($8) dares visitors to finish five scoops with brownie fingers and more whipped cream. Cash or checks only.
Heavenly Gelato & Ice Cream Cafe This family-owned business offers a selection of gelato, ice cream, sorbet, and the delectable Temptation Vegan Ice Cream, a pleasant surprise. On one trip I was more than satisfied with a small, rich amalgamation of banana praline and peanut butter cup gelato; on previous excursions I enjoyed the mixed berry, triple dark chocolate, and pistachio. Three outdoor tables are perfect for indulging in some solid Logan Square people watching.
Hole in the Wall Custard Popular Oak Park frozen custard stand with soft-serve available in cones, dipped cones, sundaes, and splits. Cash only.
Homer’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor I can walk into this store and instantly be transported to when I was five years old, going out with my dad for an ice cream cone after a T-ball game. Every summer they make their own peach ice cream, and the peppermint’s good too, full of the store’s own crushed candies. Ninety percent of the workers are high school kids; the rest are men who have worked there since I was a child.
I Dream of Sweets Newish North Shore coffee shop serving baked goods, panini, quiche, and Hershey’s ice cream.
Icebox In summer Lakeview’s Soupbox morphs into the Icebox, serving refreshing fruit-flavored ices made on the premises; some soups are still available as well.
iCream This much ballyhooed liquid nitrogen ice cream shop, in the heart of Wicker Park, flopped colossally after opening, when its machines tried to go all HAL 9000 on the crew. Now it’s reopened, and it’s certainly a good show when the fog blooms from the bowl. Customers choose their own liquid base, then add one of 30 flavors via syringe, then up to three toppings and mix-ins, a choice of sweeteners, and finally food coloring as garishly unnatural as you like—purple peach or pink green tea, anyone?
Istria Cafe This bright Internet cafe, full of laptop-using, iPod-wearing U. of C. students and carved into the crumbling urban infrastructure of the South Shore Line, serves panini and coffee and espresso, expertly hand-pulled. But the main reason to come here and try to snag one of the few tables is the house-made gelato. The fruit ones taste of real fruit, and the chocolate and hazelnut varieties are dreamily creamy. There’s a second location in the Hyde Park Art Center.
Janik’s Cafe Smoothies and Homer’s ice cream are available at this Ukrainian Village breakfast-and-lunch spot, which has sidewalk seating in the summer months.
Just Indulge Just Indulge serves Intelligentsia coffee, Chicago Chocolate Company chocolates, and house-made popcorn, but the main attraction is the frozen custard. You can also get soy ice cream, floats, fruit smoothies, milk shakes, sundaes, and concretes with a respectable 25 mix-in options ranging from caramel to fresh fruit to candy. And they’re generous with their mix-ins—almost to a fault. I could hardly taste the custard for all the peanut butter cups in my concrete, but as far as I could tell it wasn’t bad.
Little Branch Cafe Tucked into the ground floor of a gleaming South Loop high-rise, this casually modern spot run by fashion designer Soo Choi and her sister Sang is notable for both its good looks and its utter lack of street parking—the cafe seems primarily to serve the culinary needs of neighborhood condo dwellers and the occasional museum campus refugee. The food is as well designed as the space: a turkey Reuben from the short panini menu was surprisingly tidy, bird, kraut, and cheese smooshed cleanly between slices of marble rye. Also on offer: smoky espresso drinks with Metropolis coffee, Palazollo’s artisanal gelato and sorbetto, and smoothies. There’s now a full bar, and the cafe is open till 10 PM Wednesday-Saturday.
Marble Slab Creamery South Loop location of a chain that features ice cream made on premises, cut with mix-ins and served in house-baked waffle cones.
Margie’s Candies A Chicago institution since 1921, the legendary ice cream parlor at the intersection of Western, Milwaukee, and Armitage dishes up sundaes with enough embellishments to satisfy the most demanding sweet tooth: bananas, cherries, nuts, fluffs of whipped cream, hot fudge in a pitcher on the side. Margie’s also serves a limited menu of diner standards—burgers, fries, grilled cheese—but most patrons say skip the real food, have another dessert. There’s a second location at 1813 W. Montrose.
Miko’s Italian Ice This Italian ice window serves 12 flavors of the frozen treat in sizes ranging from $2 cups to $7.50 quarts. If the place is hoppin’ (chances are good) and you’re on wheels, you might want to pull up in the alley out back. There’s a second location at 1846 N. Damen.
Molly’s Cupcakes This open, airy space has cute-as-a-button grade-school decor and an endearing backstory: the cupcake recipes (and the name) are inspired by a third-grade teacher who owner John Nicolaides remembers bringing her students treats on their birthdays. These moist cupcakes, in a Leary-esque kaleidoscope of flavors and sizes, are coupled with silky, rich house-made ice cream in flavors like cinnamon, caramel, and brownie chunk.
Oberweis Ice Cream and Dairy Store My friend scooped ice cream at a Pittsburgh parlor one high school summer, so I brought her along for a professional opinion. “The quality of the strawberry and vanilla ice cream gauges the caliber of an ice cream shop,” she told me, so we ordered them in a hot fudge sundae along with a marshmallow malt. The malt came in a glass goblet as big as a halved pomelo, with a dainty Pirouline stuck in. The hot fudge was perfect, in my opinion, thick but not sticky, warm but not hot enough to make ice cream soup. My friend concurred, but the whipped cream was airier than she’d like. “Low density,” she said. We were looking for “clean and fresh” in the vanilla, but by the time she unearthed it all I could register was the taste of yet more sugar.
Original Rainbow Cone The specialty of this family-owned spot is the eponymous rainbow cone—a manually assembled scoop of chocolate, pistachio, strawberry, and “Palmer House” cherry-walnut ice cream plus orange sherbet on a pointy cake cone—but there are more than 30 single-flavor options as well. The atmosphere’s efficient but fun: patrons line up in a roped queue to order from cashiers who yell back endearing shorthand like “baby white” (for a small vanilla cone) and “heebie-jeebie” (for chocolate peanut butter). There are picnic tables behind the aging pink stucco building. A second location downtown, at 177 N. State, shares space with the Halsted Street Deli.
Paciugo This outpost of the Dallas-based gelato chain performs a daily production miracle, churning out 30 to 40 fresh traditional and modern flavors from a master list of 270. Some of them are fascinating (Blackberry Cabernet, Latte Menta), others are just plain audacious (Blueberry Lavender Chocolate Chip, Gold Fish). I don’t think corporate (or maybe it’s just this first Chicago location) has quite reached optimal franchise-style consistency: some flavors turn out remarkably smooth and silky, others are grainy and broken. But as long as you make judicious use of the tasting spoons, frequent turnover virtually assures a good ratio of quality flavor to failure. I’m particularly enamored of the chocolate jalapeño, smooth with just a slight afterburn; luxuriant Amarena black cherry swirl, with imported cherries; and an intensely floral if gritty violet. Among value-added preparations such as sundaes and shakes, the ridiculously sybaritic affogato—two or three scoops drowned in hot espresso—is the way to go. A second Chicago location is slated to open this summer at 2324 W. Giddings in Lincoln Square.
Paleteria Jalisco This walk-in storefront supplies many of the pushcart vendors in Albany Park. They carry about two dozen ice milk and Popsicle flavors, including chile-dusted cucumber, guayaba, coconut, piña colada, pecan, cookie, banana, mango, chocolate, strawberry, and mamey, a fruit that looks like a coconut and tastes like a cross between mango and cantaloupe.
Petersen’s Ice Cream This Oak Park institution has been around since 1919, but the important number here is 18: that’s the percentage of butterfat the ice cream contains. The 20 or so flavors of custom-made ice cream range from old-fogy faves like pistachio to kiddie fare like blue moon and Oreo.
Red Mango The nonfat fro-yo at this South Korean chain is pleasantly tart: it actually tastes like yogurt instead of soft-serve. In addition to the original flavors, plain and vanilla, there are now pomegranate and “tangomonium,” a citrusy flavor. There’s a second location in Evanston at 847 Davis.
Ristorante al Teatro Coffee and gelato service at this Italian restaurant and pizzeria in Pilsen’s landmark Thalia Hall begins at 11 AM daily; owner Dominick Geraci is also behind Ukrainian Village’s Caffe Gelato.
Sapore di Napoli A cooler at this Lakeview Neopolitan pizza place holds about 14 flavors of gelato and sorbetto, all so good that you could be excused for playing dumb just to get samples. The selection changes on a regular basis, but more exotic varieties might include zabaglione, which is made with sweet marsala and tastes a lot like eggnog.
Savor the Flavor This Lincoln Park coffeehouse has just one thing on its menu that’s not a beverage or ice cream: grilled cheese. But ice cream, provided by Homer’s Gourmet Ice Cream, is really the way go here. House specials like the Chai Shaker, which combines rich vanilla ice cream with smoky, spicy chai, and classics like the Malt Ball Milk Shake are decidedly successful. That plus an environment of warm colors and unobtrusive music makes it worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood.
Scoops Ice Cream Bridgeport mainstay serving up ice cream and ice cream treats like turtle parfaits, homemade ice cream sandwiches and frozen bananas as well as over-the-top creations like the Strawberry Short Cake Explosion, vanilla ice cream with pound cake, strawberry topping, strawberry wafers, and whipped cream. There’s also a full line of coffee drinks and custom-made ice cream cakes.
Scoops Old-Fashioned Ice Cream This Lincoln Park shop offers Wisconsin-made ice cream and a full-service grill that puts out burgers, gyros, and Greek specialties in addition to breakfast standards. Cash only.
Scooter’s Frozen Custard Scooter’s is the oldest frozen custard place in the area—and it’s only been around for seven years. In that time, its dense, decadent, ultrasmooth custard and incredibly friendly service have earned it a well-justified fan base. What’s hard to understand is why its success hasn’t inspired more competitors to set up shop.
Starfruit This chain offers a twist on frozen yogurt: frozen kefir, the cultured milk product Starfruit describes as the “lighthearted love child of taste and nutrition.” It’s available by the cup, with add-ins ranging from goji berries to mochi balls to Cocoa Pebbles, or in parfaits and smoothies. There are also locations at 2142 N. Halsted, 108 N. State, and 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza.
Susie’s Drive-In Among the abundant offerings at Susie’s are burgers, Italian beef, cornpoles (a deep-fried Polish sausage with a vein of cheese), cheese fries served in an edible bowl like a taco salad, a long list of sandwiches including “Confused Chicken,” and a panoply of shake flavors, from strawberry shortcake to “baboon” (chocolate-banana).
Tastee Freez Tony Zarcone, owner of this Logan Square institution, touts his simple soft-serve ice cream (vanilla, chocolate, twist) as 97 percent fat free, and it might be a good idea to cut some calories considering the rest of the fare: quarter-pound burgers, cheese fries, funnel cakes, a deep-fried Polish. There’s a second city location at 4400 S. California.
Village Creamery Outside there’s nothing to indicate this storefront carries anything more thrilling than a Baskin-Robbins might, but the menu’s filled with uncommon homemade Filipino ice creams. Among the many startling flavors are corn, avocado, purple yam, jackfruit, ginger, lychee, and, most flamboyantly, halo-halo, a hash of red and white beans, sugar palm, Jell-O bits, coconut, and Rice Krispies based on the popular Filipino dessert. Many flavors, like a pale green soother made from pandan leaves and large hunks of coconut, are lightly sweetened, letting the tropical elements do the talking. Village Creamery also makes fruit sorbets and shaved ices. There’s a second location at 8000 Waukegan, Niles.
Yogen Früz Lakeview location of the fro-yo chain offering flavors like coffee, chai latte, and lychee-green tea. There’s a second location at 333 S. State.
Windy City Sweets This Lakeview sweets shop offers homemade candy and 32 flavors of ice cream supplied by a dairy farm in Iowa, including Moose Tracks, vanilla with swirls of chocolate and peanut butter, and Birthday Cake, with “Funfetti” cake and white buttercream frosting. It’s a bit pricey (nearly $5 for two scoops), but portions are enormous. Lighter options like sugar-free butter pecan and several fat-free yogurts are also available to ease your guilt about sampling the store’s colossal candy selection: truffles, chocolate-covered pretzels and s’mores, and several seasonal varieties of fudge beckon from glass cases.