10 Best Ice Cream & Gelato Shops in L.A.
10. Saffron Spot:
The flavors at this shop come in vibrant candyish hues, sporting names that sound like particularly festive planets in the Star Wars universe. Rajbhog? Chikoo? A working knowledge of Hindi would help, but it's hard to go wrong at Saffron Spot, where vanilla and chocolate play second fiddle to Indian flavors like guava, jackfruit, Masala Tea and Kulfi Kreme. 18744 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia. (562) 809-4554.
Let's not equivocate: Jerry's Soda Shoppe serves the best ice cream soda in all of Los Angeles, if not the world. It begins with a frosty glass mug dipped in chocolate sauce. It's then filled with Lappert's vanilla ice cream, fizzy soda water and more chocolate syrup. Crowned with whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles and a maraschino cherry, it's served with a sidecar of soda water and arrives on a plate, to catch the inevitable overflow as you dig in for the first bite. (Pro Tip: Take several long, hard pulls off the straw before trying to extract the spoon.) As you work your way through this behemoth -- even the small size is a bellyfull -- you can break off stalactites of hardened chocolate or scrape away at the mug like Rodin carving his Thinker. This brilliant aberration is located in the De Soto Pharmacy stocked with a Cronenbergian array of medical devices. 20914 Roscoe Blvd., Canoga Park. (818) 341-9515.
Does Scoops Westside sell ice cream or gelato? It's dense and fluffy like gelato, but it has a texture more like ice cream. We think of it as the bastard love child of the two, not that it matters. People don't come here to parse ice cream texture, they come for the latest creations of Scoops' mad genius, founder Tai Kim. His penchant for experimental flavors includes jasmine chocolate, blueberry tea (which actually tastes of blueberries and tea), various bacon combinations and dairy-free Oreo cookie ice cream that's blessedly creamy. We can't get enough of Brown Bread (at the original location) and its even more concentrated version, Brown Brown Bread (at the Westside location), a vanilla-based ice cream that's sweeter, more caramely and more aggressively dosed with Grape Nuts. The healthy part of a balanced breakfast. 712 N. Heliotrope Drive. L.A. (323) 906-2649; 3400 Overland Ave. L.A. (323) 405-7055.
7. Pazzo Gelato:
It's all about the chocolate gelato at Pazzo. This small shop near Sunset Junction (with a newer location in Echo Park) makes incredible, creamy gelato that's densely flavored and soft as silk. We're suckers for all of Pazzo's chocolate varietals, whether it's plain, dark and made with copious amounts of Valrhona, spiked with cayenne or mellowed with toasted almonds. The flavors range from primal and earthy (like a chevre and sour cherry so intense it might have come directly from the dam's teat), to note-perfect classics (like mango, pistachio and banana) to surprising, and surprisingly good, mash-ups like pineapple celery sorbet. 3827 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A. (323) 662-1410.
This small, stunningly colored ice cream shop dishes out a fantastic selection of gelados, paletas and jugos in flavors not often found in these here parts: smoky leche quemada (burnt milk), passion fruit, tamarind, gaunabana and more. Mamey, a creamy Mexican fruit with a subtle flavor that's halfway between peach and pumpkin, turns into an even creamier pink ice cream with a floral hint. The stunner is the coffee and chocolate ice cream, easily one of the best in the city. This is no frou-frou frozen frappuccino. Strong, slightly bitter and riddled with nibs of chocolate, it seems designed to ensure you never forget its coffee essence. 4929 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. (310) 313-7625.
5. Gelato Bar:
Owned by Gail Silverton (sister of Mozza pizza queen Nancy), Gelato Bar's flavors are less intense and the consistency of their gelato more dense than at Grom, but the flavor combinations are varied and intriguing, like the Veneziana, vanilla gelato ribboned with chocolate and sprinkled with candied orange peel, or the milky Lattemou. The Los Feliz shop, which also makes very good coffee, has about two dozen offerings at any given time, but their full repertoire stretches to nearly 90 flavors. The chocolate is dark and lovely, while the Yogurt Greco balances the tartness of yogurt and the sweetness of honey in irresistible harmony. The knockout punch is the exceptional pear sorbet, a flavor we've seen almost nowhere else. Here, it's light and flowery, exploiting every last drop of pear essence. 1936 N. Hillhurst Ave., L.A. (323) 668-0606; 4342 1/2 Tujunga Ave., Studio City. (818) 487-1717.
The most famous flavor at Carmela Ice Cream is its salted caramel. Listed first on the menu, it's almost always in stock. If it wasn't, the Pasadena shop might have a riot on its hands. After working the farmers market scene in the vanguard of the upscale ice cream brigade, co-owner Jessica Mortarotti finally opened a brick-and-mortar ice creamery. Mortarotti blends blueberries with thyme and transforms Guinness into a creamy, can't-put-it-down-until-the-last-bite treat. Honey ice cream that would be too sweet in most other hands is deftly lightened with lavender. Spiced Strawberry is tarted -- and tartened -- up with a hit of balsamic vinegar and black pepper. There's a mellow intensity to all of the flavors that lingers but doesn't punch you in the throat. 2495 E Washington Blvd. Pasadena. (626) 797-1405.
3. Sweet Rose Creamery (Brentwood):
Sweet Rose Creamery is Josh and Zoe Nathan's (Huckleberry, Rustic Canyon) ingredient-driven ice cream shop in the Brentwood Country Mart. That means fresh olallieberries, peaches, lemons, basil, coconuts, carrots, nectarines and sweet corn. Sweet Rose's flavors aren't flashy or extreme, but the shop makes some of the best sundaes (including one topped with slices of bacon) in town. Their banana split is a delicate but meticulously crafted work of art, made with the best of everything: two scoops of ice cream, hot fudge, butterscotch, real whipped cream and toasted, lightly sugared almond slivers. At $7.50, it's worth every penny. 225 26th St.Street, Santa Monica. (310) 260-CONE.
2. Grom Gelateria:
This is gelato at its finest: soft, smooth as velvet and reeking of casual indulgence. Grom, a much loved Italian chain, prides itself on using superlative ingredients and the dossiers that come with them: pistachios from Syria, nougat from Piedmont, chocolate from Colombia, almond chips from Sicily. "Exquisite" is probably among the top Words That Food Writers Should Not Use, but there's no other way to describe Grom's melon gelato, replete with the essence of cantaloupe. The apricot sorbet is as colorful as a California poppy and twice as flavorful. Every fruit sorbet tastes like it was plucked from the earth and rushed straight to the mixer. Among the 20 or so flavors, which change seasonally, are gelato standards like baccio, stracciatella and tiramisu as well as less common flavors (at least in the United States) like liquirizia (licorice) and torroncino (nougat). Grom's dark chocolate gelato, called cioccolato extranoir, is an unstoppable exultation of cacao, so dark that if it was a movie, it would make Lars von Trier's ouevre look like slapstick comedy. 3886 Cross Creek, Malibu. (310) 456-9797.
There's a reason Bulgarini Gelato is a perennial topper on Best Gelato lists. While other gelaterias do a superb job of capturing the essence of a particular flavor, Bulgarini somehow captures the flavor itself. Case Study: their pistachio gelato, which tastes like an entire grove of trees has been crushed and condensed into a single, aromatic, golf ball sized scoop. Husband and wife team Leo Bulgarini and Elizabeth Foldi make it the old fashioned way. They don't skimp on the dairy, using milk from Broguiere's Dairy in Montebello. They rigorously source the fruits, nuts and other flavorings that go into their gelato, which brings us back to the pistachios, imported from Bronte, a Sicilian town near Mount Etna. Everything, without qualification, at Bulgarini is excellent -- a floral, mellow yellow peach vs. a deeper, more concentrated white peach; banana so creamy it might be butter; intensely fragrant mango sorbet. It's dense, velvety, earthy and without parallel in the city of L.A. 749 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena. (626) 791-6174; 8686 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (310) 815-1723.
Bonus: Dr. Bob's (Claremont): Technically, Dr. Bob's, located on the LA County Fairgrounds, only operates as a retail shop during the fair, but we have it on good authority that if you arrive Monday through Thursday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. (drive up to Gate 1 and say you have an appointment at Dr. Bob's), you can walk in and buy their ice cream by the gallon, though not the scoop.
Double Bonus: Rite Aid (everywhere): Their ice cream isn't chic and artisanal, but it's cheap, ubiquitous and features their standout flavor, Chocolate Malted Krunch. Milky, creamy and slightly tart, it's flecked with soft shavings of dark chocolate that melt on your tongue while a wealth of crisp, malted mini-bombs explode under your teeth.
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