L.A.'s Top 10 Ice Cream & Gelato Spots

[Catch up on the full 30 Scoops in 30 Days trek in our sweet, creamy archive.]

Americans remember President Ronald Reagan as any number of things: The Great Communicator, a proponent of trickle-down economics, a hack former actor with a penchant for chimpanzees. Few, however, know of his greatest political act: making National Ice Cream Day an official holiday in 1984. It's celebrated the third Sunday of July, which would be yesterday. In honor of this obscure food holiday and the completion of our 30 Scoops in 30 Days odyssey and the dawning of brutal summer weather, we present Los Angeles' Top 10 Ice Cream & Gelato Spots.


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ICE CREAM

5.1. 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.

5. Saffron Spot (Artesia): 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.

4. Jerry's Soda Shoppe (Canoga Park): 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.

3. Mateo's Ice Cream & Fruit Bars (Culver City): 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.

2. 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.

1. Carmela Ice Cream (Pasadena): 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.

Honorable Mention: Kind Kreme (Echo Park, Studio City, Pasadena), Bennett's Ice Cream (mid-city West), Milk (mid-city West), Handel's (Upland, Redondo Beach).

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.

GELATO

5. Gelato Bar (Los Feliz, Studio City): 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.

4. Pazzo (Silver Lake): It's all about the chocolate gelato at Pazzo. This small shop near Sunset Junction 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.

3. Grom Gelateria (Malibu): This is gelato at its finest: soft, velvet smooth 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.

2. Delicieuse (Redondo Beach): Everything Delicieuse does, they do with care and formidable attention to detail. Nowhere is this clearer than in their fruit sorbets, a wallop of scent, flavor and freshness. The strawberry basil is perfectly balanced on all counts. Their Pear William is exceptional, and the Berry Michelle, a mix of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, may be the best berry sorbet ever. The gelato is also pretty terrific. The chocolate is dark and bitter, the coconut, creamy and supple, and the lavender goat's milk, which could have easily tasted like a potpourri sachet, has just enough of the herb to earn its name, Summer in Provence. Deliceuse's skill is both deep and broad. 12 flavors are available in the shop at any time, but the repertoire includes dozens more, like avocado sorbet, maple sugar goat's milk, cognac, banana flambee, white peach, Earl Grey, saffron and fig. Delicieuse makes gelato, whatever its provenance, that's so outstanding it's worth a brutal drive down the 405.

1. Bulgarini (Altadena): 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.

Honorable Mention: GelatoVino (Hollywood), Scoops/Scoops Westside (East Hollywood, Palms), Al Gelato (Beverly Hills), Paciugo Gelato (Manhattan Beach, Thousand Oaks).

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