It may be hard to fathom in the middle of a Boston winter, but the city has been a hotbed of ice cream innovation since the ’70s when Steve Herrell began mixing Oreo shards into freshly churned batches in his (defunct) Somerville shop. Emack & Bolio’s soon followed, joined in the early ’80s by the first J.P. Licks in Jamaica Plain. Follow the lead of some top Boston restaurants and get your frozen fix at these exceptional ice cream shops (and one of them is the best ice cream shop in America, according to some!).
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Best ice cream shops in Boston
The New York Times called it the best ice cream in the world—just one of the many accolades the Cambridge shop/café has collected since it was co-founded by Steve's alum Gus Rancatore in 1981. Toscanini’s continues to push the flavor boundaries with such intriguing and satisfying combinations as B3 (brownies, brown sugar, brown butter) and the amazing burnt caramel, which was actually created by accident. But if you insist on gilding the lily, order a “micro sundae,” a small scoop topped with house-made hot fudge, whipped cream, nuts and sprinkles.
Whether or not they advertise the fact, many local restaurants scream for ice cream from this Inman Square shop to supplement their dessert menus. Among the beautifully realized seasonal flavors such as pumpkin and eggnog, keep your eyes peeled—and your mouth primed—for fresh rose, burnt sugar and ginger molasses.
Aaron Cohen—the genius behind the city’s Bacon and Beer Festival—and co-owner Ben Dryer have opened an outré ice cream post in Union Square that further cements the neighborhood as the place for all things artisanal. The shop doles out schmancy flavors like Salty Whiskey, Guinness, and Black Raspberry Chip, with new flavors rotating in regularly. Top your scoop with the house-made version of Magic Shell, and definitely forgo the cup for a toasted Fluff cone.
Once upon a time, you had to nab a pint of Batch’s Sea Salt Caramel or Brown Sugar Bourbon and Pecan at your local gourmet food shop and scarf it alone in your living room. But with Batch’s seasonal food truck now cruising the city from April through October, a spontaneous cone is no longer out of the question. Decorated in the brand’s signature chalkboard aesthetic, the truck spells out the company’s philosophy (organic, fresh ingredients); even better, founders Susie Parish and Veronica Janssens usually drive the truck themselves, so you can meet your dessert heroes in person.
The Jamaica Plain–born ice cream institution, which has since spread to Beacon Hill and Harvard Square, among other locations, is known for its funky cow motif, lively atmosphere, hip scoopers and exciting flavors. You can expect a wait on hot days, but that just gives you more time to decide between old faithful faves like Brownie Batter and seasonal dazzlers such as PB & Chili, made with sriracha. The place also roasts its own coffee in case you want to supplement your sugar rush with a caffeine fix.
This Back Bay locale is as famous for its ice cream as its award-winning smoothies, which the staff will whip up in front of you using fresh seasonal ingredients. Emack & Bolio's also pioneered the flavored cone—including varieties covered in marshmallow or chocolate-dipped with shaved coconut.
Vegans, rejoice: This ice cream’s for you. The folks at FoMu whip up whip up gelato-like, creamy treats with a coconut milk base and flavors like Avocado, Bourbon Maple Walnut, Mango Habanero, and the summer-only Almond Raspberry Crumble. The Allston shop (there’s a second outpost in Jamaica Plain) also concocts ice cream cakes for the celebratory herbivore.
Why have gelato when you can have gelato shaped like a flower? The European chain has opened its first New England outpost, satiating Bostonians who crave gelato made from organic, high-end ingredients (blood oranges, Arabica coffee, amarena cherries). Each cone serving is presented in Amorino’s signature floral arrangement, making it almost—almost—too pretty to eat. The café also serves breakfast, so you can nab a gelato fix well before noon.
A new addition to Dorchester’s Fields Corner neighborhood, Chill on Park doles out 32 house-made flavors (Salted Caramel Truffle, Cookie Dough) in a cheery, congenial setting. The free Wi-Fi encourages you to linger while you lick, and social media contests offer discounts and free giveaways. The shop doubles as a full-service coffeehouse, filling the neighborhood’s latte void, and treats like muffins and brownies come from the South End’s Haley House, a multi-purpose nonprofit.
Frozen custard is a legit rarity in New England, which is why Chilly Cow’s sole retail location lures in devotees from all over. When the dense, rich custard feels a little too decadent, a scoop of Boston Cream Pie ice cream or Mint Chip frozen yogurt will do you nicely. The ice cream cakes and pies are the stuff of birthday party legend; Chilly Cow ice cream also shows up in the ice cream sandwiches at Somerville’s Frozen Hoagies.