The Best Ice Cream in Los Angeles

Though some might try to make the case that ice cream is a dessert best suited to winter (high calories equal higher body heat, or at least that's what Benjamin Franklin said), almost everyone associates it with summer. To get into the spirit, we've compiled a list of the best purveyors of ice cream, sorbet and gelato across town. Each shop offers some kind of rarely found flavor — but you can always find chocolate, too.

Coconut bowl at Helados PopsEXPAND
Coconut bowl at Helados Pops
Danny Liao

Helados Pops

Helados Pops specializes in fruit-based ice cream, using products found at local farmers markets whenever possible. Obviously, the tropical flavors require imported frozen fruit. Owner Marthin Ken points out that one can’t follow an exact recipe, "because fruits aren’t the same.” Sometimes this means far more or far less of a particular fruit. Ken also believes in using as little sugar or sweetener as possible. One of the most interesting sorbet flavors is marañon, the cashew fruit. It requires seven to eight pounds of the fruit, acidic skin removed, to get the true flavor. The flavor is a sort of a melding of mango and pineapple. Another sorbet you’re unlikely to find elsewhere is arrayan, known in English as the sartre guava. And yes, you can get it served in a coconut. —Jim Thurman

450 N. Maclay Ave., San Fernando; (818) 371-3538.

Salt & Straw's fermentation series
Salt & Straw's fermentation series
Jean Trinh

Salt & Straw

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Salt & Straw brings a little more flair to the local ice cream scene. With flavors such as tomato water, Ojai olive oil sherbet, and avocado and strawberry sherbet, this is definitely not your grandmother’s ice creamery. For noncommittal types, there's a flight of flavors, which includes four choices for $10. Other sweetly sensational options hail from the drink side of things: a lavender bitters and spruce cola float and a barrel-aged maple syrup and walnut shake. Everything for the Los Angeles shops is made from scratch at Salt & Straw’s kitchen in Boyle Heights. —Angela Matano

Multiple locations; saltandstraw.com.

McConnell'sEXPAND
McConnell's
Flickr/LWYang

McConnell's

Based in Santa Barbara since 1949, this company — with a stall in Grand Central Market — uses milk and cream from its own grass-grazed cows. The flavors are a mix of old and new, and the ice cream itself is creamy and rich without being too sweet. The McConnell’s version of the now ubiquitous (but still worthwhile) salty caramel is a salted caramel chip with enough depth of flavor to approach the intensity of coffee. The chopped-up, bittersweet Guittard chocolate balances out the sweetness, making for a decidedly sophisticated flavor. The Earl Grey tea float is another unusual and delicious choice. —A.M.

Multiple locations; mcconnells.com.

Mateo's Ice Cream & Fruit Bars
Mateo's Ice Cream & Fruit Bars

Mateo's Ice Cream & Fruit Bars

A little Culver City Mexican ice cream shop, Mateo's Ice Cream & Fruit Bars serves up paletas, jugos and house-made gelados in a stunning array of flavors: smoky leche quemada (burnt milk), passion fruit, tamarind, guanabana 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 hint of something floral. Playing with ice cream pairings among the 18 or so flavors is a fun game. (The tart passion fruit is perfect for cutting through the sweetness, and coconut works with just about anything.) Several of the flavors are made without dairy, but even the sorbets are so dense and creamy, we'd be hard-pressed to pick them out in a blind taste test.The stunner is the coffee and chocolate ice cream, easily one of the best in the city. This is no frozen frappuccino, struggling to mask the flavor of coffee with enough sugar to turn an elephant hyperactive. This ice cream seems designed to ensure you never forget its coffee essence, and it's riddled with small hits of chocolate. —Elina Shatkin

4929 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City; (310) 313-7625.

Mashti Malone'sEXPAND
Mashti Malone's
Anne Fishbein

Mashti Malone's

This one's a bit of a sleeper: Mashti Malone's has been around practically forever, so in the last few years, with the deluge of new ice cream shops around L.A., it's nearly been forgotten. But the Persian dessert shop is still churning out a high-quality product, sometimes in flavors hard to find elsewhere, such as cucumber, rosewater and ginger. Those fall under the "refreshing" category, but the store also has good ol' all-American flavor extravaganzas too, such as peanut butter cup and cookies 'n' cream. Have a scoop of one, and then the other. —Katherine Spiers

1525 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood; (323) 874-0144, mashtimalone.com.

Scoops
Scoops

Scoops

Tai Kim, the owner of the original Scoops location on Heliotrope Drive near Melrose Avenue, expanded his innovative ice cream empire with independently owned branches in Palms, Chinatown and Highland Park. Each Scoops locations serves up a rotating list of regular and nondairy flavors, boasting creative combinations using multiple ingredients, every day except Sunday. That means up to 50 flavors a week. There's usually only one constant on the menu, the customer favorite "brown bread": caramel ice cream with candied Grape-Nuts. —Jessica Koslow

Multiple locations.

Carmela on Third Street
Carmela on Third Street
Jessica Koslow

Carmela

The Third Street location of Carmela, just west of the Grove, is tucked snugly into a row of stores on a bustling, traffic-heavy street. It's easy to pass by if you aren't looking for it. But the scores of kids who race through the doors with their parents close behind know exactly where to find Carmela. The shop carries goodies such as cones, toffee and cookies, made in its creamery and original shop in Pasadena. The sorbet flavors, from cucumber to blueberry thyme, follow the seasons. Popular picks include salted caramel, made with homemade caramel, and mint with cacao nib. The secret to the in-demand mint flavor: fresh mint leaves steeped in the milk. For Valley dwellers, there's also a newer location in Woodland Hills. —J.K.      

Multiple locations. carmelaicecream.com.

BulgariniEXPAND
Bulgarini
Terrence Rorie

Bulgarini

Owner Leo Bulgarini is a gelato connoisseur. He studied gelato-making in Italy and imports his almonds from Sicily and chocolate from France. At Bulgarini's Altadena location, foreign films such as Matrimonio all'italiana are sometimes screened for the public during the summer. The ice cream case stands just inside the front door, greeting customers with colorful gelato and sorbets. Bulgarini offers three kinds of chocolate — salted, regular and orange flavor — and customer favorites are the standard chocolate chip, almond and vanilla. Oh, and there's house-made pasta, too, if you need a little something savory before dessert. —J.K.      

749 E. Altadena Drive; Altadena. (626) 791-6174, bulgarinigelato.com.

Sweet Rose CreameryEXPAND
Sweet Rose Creamery
Emily Hart Roth

Sweet Rose Creamery

Sweet Rose Creamery carries at least 15 flavors daily, inspired by what's in season, such as a nectarine sorbet during summer. The two most requested flavors are salted caramel and fresh mint with homemade chocolate chips. Peering out at customers from a tall case by the door are Guittard chocolate-dipped bananas, classic and seasonal bon bons and Valrhona fudge pops. Also on the menu are brownie bites, sundaes, shakes, floats and one of the best banana splits in L.A., featuring one scoop each of old-fashioned vanilla and chocolate (substitutions allowed), a ripe banana, homemade hot fudge and whipped cream topped with toasted almonds and a strawberry. —J.K.

Multiple locations. sweetrosecreamery.com.

IhwamunEXPAND
Ihwamun
Eddie Lin

Ihwamun

Michael Kim, owner of Ihwamun Ice Cream, makes and rotates about 36 flavors through his shop in the Little Tokyo Galleria. The choices range from classics like chocolate and vanilla to more trendy scoops such as chai latte and matcha. Kim sources his organic dairy base from Straus Family Creamery, up north in Petaluma. The ice creams are all densely textured, not airy, and concentrated with quality ingredients. The ingredient mixed into Ihwamun’s ice cream with the most history is yakgwa, which translated means “medicinal snack”; it is a fried cookie made with honey and sesame oil. The crunchy cookies are broken into small pieces and folded into the ice cream. —Eddie Lin

333 S. Alameda St., Little Tokyo; (213) 537-0380, ihwamun.com.

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