You haven’t lived until you’ve tried water ice in Philadelphia. Pick any place in America where Italians have settled and you’re sure to find fruit ices like they had in the old country. But this slushie-like summer treat of frozen water, fruit and sugar is nowhere more popular than in the City of Brotherly Love. “Wooder” ice, as we like to call it, is similar to the Philly cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, in that every neighborhood boasts its beloved OG spot that you may never encounter if you live in another part of town—at least, until now. Check out our guide to find the best—and most historic—spots for water ice in Philadelphia below. Once you’ve slurped it down, keep the sugar high going with something sweet from the best bakeries Philadelphia has to offer. You only live once, right?
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Best water ice in Philadelphia
Nowadays, four stands and numerous carts throughout the city bear Fred’s name, but none can hold a candle to the original Kingsessing location: a former tire shop right across the street from where fresh-out-of-high-school Fred Cooper, now 48, sold water ice from a sidewalk freezer. Sidle up and work your way through the 24 flavors, including blueberry and sour apple.
Filippo “Pop” Italiano began to hawk water ice in 1932 from a Marconi Plaza street cart; six years later, in 1938, operations moved to this South Philly building across the street. Standout flavors include Pop’s original recipes for lemon, ginger ale and—by late June—peach, made from fresh Jersey peaches that his granddaughter Linda Raffa fetches from an orchard near her house.
Gus Bauman, 70, makes his water ice by chopping cherry- or pineapple-flavored ice blocks by hand, imitating his late father, shop founder “Hecker” Bauman. No machinery is involved, hence his ice’s chunky consistency. Hecker reportedly also invented the “radio ball,” Port Richmond’s variation on gelati (which is a mixture, rather than a layering, of water ice and ice cream) that Gus still sells.
In 1945, heating-oil man John Cardullo started selling water ice in Bella Vista as a way to make money during the off-season. Today, his grandson Anthony continues to make John’s original lemon and cherry flavors, as well as pineapple and the Saturday specials (like strawberry, mango, cantaloupe and lime), from real fruit squeezed by hand. You may also recognize John’s as the place where President Obama stopped for water ice when he campaigned in Philly in 2011.
This marine-green corner takeout window and a sister Ridge Avenue stand are almost all that's left of a water-ice dynasty that started with Rose (last name not known) selling water ice out of her Feltonville garage in the 1950s. The operation once included three Northeast iceries and a fleet of converted post office Jeeps that served as food trucks before food trucks were cool. Go for the lemon, cherry, chocolate and mango flavors that are still made from Rose’s recipes.
Fresh-made ricotta and mozzarella—and the chance to catch up on East Passyunk Avenue gossip—draw an old-school, year-round crowd to this circa-1940 Italian specialty shop. But, in summer, nothing beats the blast-from-the-past experience of slurping one of 82-year-old Phil Mancuso’s lemon, cherry or chocolate water ices at the bench in front of his shop.
Late stand founder Nobel Tranzilli based his water ice recipes on the granita he remembered from his native Italy (hence their “real Italian water ice” tagline). Today his daughter Marisa Green carries on the Nobel tradition of super-cold and firm water ice and warmed pretzels.
This corner walkup window has gone through several owners and menu expansions since its 1925 opening (not surprisingly). One favorite non-water-ice offering: their upside-down-sundae (served in a cup).