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13 Unique Ice Cream Shops in the U.S. to Try This Summer

By Alina Polishuk and Jessie Beck

Jul 20, 2020

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Across the country, ice cream has been given a makeover.

Photo by Brannon_Naito/Shutterstock

Across the country, ice cream has been given a makeover.

These ice cream shops are anything but vanilla.

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Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, AFAR is continuing to cover the world through our coverage, because while you may not be traveling right now, there's always room for inspiration. Due to COVID-19, some of the following ice cream shops are only open for delivery or takeout. Please check each shop’s website for the latest upates.

 

Next time you’re craving a sweet scoop (or two), do yourself a favor: Skip the grocery store ice cream. No, not because of #summerbodygoals—it’s because you can do so much better. At these unique U.S. ice cream shops, pastry chefs and self-taught artisans are giving America’s favorite frozen treat an irresistible makeover that you’re going to want to taste.

From out-of-the-box flavors like green chile and Thai rice to creative takes on classics, like an ice cream sandwich made with doughnuts instead of cookies, here are 13 ice cream shops across the nation that you should try—including several you can order pints from online.

Humphry Slocombe’s matchadoodle ice cream combines green tea with snickerdoodles.

1. Humphry Slocombe

San Francisco, California

Buy now: $10 for a pint, amazon.com; goldbelly.com

A pint of the stuff might cost you an arm and a leg (or like, $10), but the occasional scoop of Humphry Slocombe is easily worth the indulgence. At this Bay Area ice cream shop, flavors range from dressed-up classics like Tahitian V*n!ll@ and Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee, to innovative newcomers, like Matchadoodle, Secret Breakfast, and Hibiscus Beet Sorbet.

2. Fifty Licks

Portland, Oregon

Buy now: $9 for a pint; local delivery within Portland via postmates.com

Portland is no stranger to serving up unique treats, so why would the city’s ice cream be any different? At Fifty Licks, ultra-rich custards are scooped up in flavors like Thai Rice (jasmine-rice-infused cream with a hint of pandan) and Cornbread with Honey Butter. There are funky options for vegans, too. Our favorite? The fresh pineapple flavor, which is infused with Thai basil.

The doughnutwich from Goodies puts custard between an apple cake donut.

3. Goodies Frozen Custard & Treats

Washington, D.C.

The tasty treats served from this eye-catching ice cream truck have a decidedly retro flair. Channeling inspiration from the ’50s rock-and-roll era, Goodies Frozen Custard and Treats serves classic frozen custard, sundaes, and shakes throughout the Washington, D.C. area.

But don’t let the familiarity of its style fool you. The menu includes innovative concoctions like the doughnutwich, an ice cream sandwich made with an apple cider cake doughnut, and sweet potato pie custard.

4. Cloud City Ice Cream

Portland, Oregon

Buy now: $10 for a pint; local delivery within Portland via postmates.com

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Cloud City is a true standout in the city’s artisanal ice cream scene. Its vibe is unpretentious, its treats are locally sourced, and each of its 30 daily flavors has a twist. Seasonal favorites include the Unicorn (mascarpone ice cream swirled with red velvet cake chunks and strawberry jam) and the Roasted Balsamic Cherry Mascarpone, but tasty scoops like Chocolate Stout and Earl Grey Blueberry are available year round.

The tequila ice cream at Lick’s Honest Ice Cream is made from locally sourced, Dulce Vida tequila.

5. Lick Honest Ice Cream

Austin, Texas

Buy now: $99 for six pints; goldbelly.com

Since opening the doors of Lick Honest Ice Cream in 2011, cofounders Chad Palmatier and Anthony Sobotik have run a hyper-local ice cream shop inspired by their small town upbringings. With shops in San Antonio and Austin, going local means Lick draws inspiration, and ingredients, from within Texas to develop its seasonal menus.

Lick sources the dairy for its ice cream from Mill-King Market & Creamery outside of Waco. Funky flavors like Banana Nut Fudge and Tequila Lime Coconut also use produce (such as bananas and peanuts) and goods (Dulce Vida tequila) from Texas.

6. Spun Ice Cream

Austin, Texas

Making a single scoop of ice cream to order might sound like some kind of magic trick, but at Spun Ice Cream in Austin, it’s business as usual. That’s because co-owners Ashley and Christina Cheng use liquid nitrogen to freeze their organic ice cream batters so customers get a made-to-order treat free of emulsifiers, preservatives, or stabilizers.

The real magic, however, lies in Spun’s rotating menu of flavors and toppings. Customers can mix and match or choose from specially crafted sundaes. The Toastess with the Mostess, for example, includes toast ice cream, Valencia orange marmalade, brown butter powder, and a tiny brûléed toast.

Sage is one of the many inventive, seasonal flavors at Santa Fe's La Lecheria.

7. La Lecheria

Santa Fe, New Mexico

With a focus on organic and locally sourced ingredients, Santa Fe’s La Lecheria makes small-batch, craft ice cream with flavors that range from familiar classics to bold innovations.

Adventurous eaters: Keep an eye out for seasonal flavors, like red chile brown sugar, sweet corn, avocado, or habanero vanilla, which showcase southwest flavors you wouldn’t necessarily expect to encounter in a scoop of ice cream or sorbet.

8. Taharka Brothers

Baltimore, Maryland

Buy now: $56 for eight pints; delivery in the Baltimore area via taharkabrothers.com

Serving all-natural, small-batch ice cream in a bright pink ice cream truck, as well as to more than 100 restaurants, scoop shops, and stores around Baltimore and nearby D.C., Taharka Brothers is just as well known for it delicious flavors as it is for its community involvement. CEO Devon Brown named the business after a mentor of his, Taharka McCoy, who was murdered in 2002 at the age of 25. Today, Taharka Brothers seeks to show that “young African American males can run successful, responsible businesses,” said Brown in the 2015 documentary A Dream Preferred.

But, of course, it also makes darn good ice cream, turning some of our favorite desserts into frozen, creamy concoctions: a tangy take on Key lime pie; its sweet-and-savory honey graham signature flavor; matcha mochi; and the coffee and fudge-filled flavor, wake and bake—to name a few.

Browndog is named in honor of the cofounders’ Boston terrier.

9. Browndog Creamery and Dessert Bar

Detroit, Michigan

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Buy now: $45 for six pints; browndogcreamery.com

Bar plus ice cream parlor equals barlor, right? It does near Detroit at Browndog Creamery, where scoops of small-batch ice cream are mixed with booze, served flight-style, or dunked into pints of beer.

There are kid-friendly treats, too, but for the over-21 set, favorite combos are the Jacked-Up Carrot Cake (infused with Jack Daniels, bits of cake, and a cream cheese swirl) and customizable floats made with Michigan draft beers.

10. Black Dog Gelato

Chicago, Illinois

Sure, gelato isn’t technically ice cream, but the inventive offerings at Black Dog Gelato easily warrant it a spot on this list. Chef and owner Jessie Oloroso mixes up batches of the creamy Italian treat the traditional way—but flavors like Blueberry French Toast and Sesame Fig Chocolate Chip make this gelateria anything but old school.

Ample Hills ice cream is one of Brooklyn's most popular spots for a scoop.

11. Ample Hills Creamery

New York City

Buy now: $66 for four pints; amplehills.com

Originally founded by husband-and-wife duo Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna, the Brooklyn-born Ample Hills Creamery has positioned itself as one of New York City’s most popular spots for a scoop. It now has locations in New York, New Jersey, and Florida, as well as a book full of recipes fans can use to recreate the experience at home.

Although recently under new ownership, they continue to attract the masses by making ice cream the old-fashioned way, with an “everything homemade” mantra, and its flavors have a Brooklyn-style eccentricity that’s both craveable and creative. Chocolate gets spicy with its Mexican hot chocolate ice cream, while Summer of Love, made with “tie-dyed” cupcakes, channels ’60s nostaglia.

Garden Creamery in San Francisco offers a wide variety of dairy and non-dairy ice cream flavors.

12. Garden Creamery

San Francisco, California

There are more than a few great ice cream parlors in San Francisco, but Garden Creamery sets itself apart with its salmon pink facade and rotating selection of Asian-inspired flavors. Hawaii native Erin Lang and her partner Donny Capozzi started selling frozen treats from a similarly colored food truck several years ago; they opened their first brick-and-mortar store in 2017 in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Patrons line up not only for scoops of Mango Sticky Rice and Butter Mochi Toasted Sesame, but also for Lang’s decadently flavored semifreddo ice cream sandwiches. Garden Creamery does more than cater to dairy lovers: The store also offers a plentiful selection of plant-based options like Thai Iced Tea and Kona Coffee, all made with coconut milk and agave nectar.

13. Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream

New York City

Buy now: $99 for four pints; morgensternsnyc.com

There are a lot of old-school-esque ice cream parlors in New York City serving tubs of old-school-esque flavors. Although this shop’s charming graphics and simple design might indicate otherwise, Morgenstern’s Finest is not one of them.

Opened in 2014, this wildly popular parlor makes small-batch variations of classic flavors. Vanilla, for example, is offered as Madagascar, Burnt Honey, Bourbon, French, or Rum Raisin, while strawberry can be Balsamic, Smooth and Delicious, or Pistachio Pesto. The creativity also extends to Morgenstern’s menu of untraditional flavors, including Raw Milk, Durian, or the Insta-famous Black Coconut Ash.

>> Next: 8 Ice Cream Shops That Will Deliver Treats to Your Doorstep

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