You can’t only have ice cream when it’s warm out - as a food group, it’s just too important. But during Chicago’s 13 annual months of winter, it can be hard to get motivated to make a special trip out for it. Summertime means no longer sitting on your couch with a freezer-burned gallon, counting down the days until you can race to finish a nice fresh cone before it’s melted by the sun.
In other words, it’s ice cream season, and you have a lot of catching up to do. Here are the 13 must-visit spots across the city, ranked.
Jeni’s is originally from Ohio, and there are a lot of locations in Chicago. We’re glad since the ice cream here is outstanding. It’s rich and creamy, with equal attention paid to the mix-ins and the ice cream itself (plus everything is made from scratch). On top of all that, the people who work here are incredibly patient - they will stand there while you try every single flavor, without acting as annoyed as they have every right to be. The staple flavors (like their brambleberry crisp) are very good, but we like the limited edition ones best, like the churro, with cinnamon ice cream and pieces of actual churro blended in.
Lickity Split is a retro-style sweets and ice cream shop in Edgewater that makes its own frozen custard fresh every day. There are only three flavors (chocolate, vanilla, and a specialty flavor that rotates every few weeks), all of which are fine on their own. But you need to order one of the concretes - i.e. custard blended with mix-ins. There’s a long, long list of things to choose from (like cheesecake pieces and pretzels), along with pre-designed combinations like the Scarlet’s Last Fall, which involves an entire red velvet cupcake mixed in with the custard.
Black Dog has our favorite gelato in Chicago. It’s incredibly smooth, and there are a variety of interesting flavors, like pretzel Nutella and olive oil almond (our absolute favorite is the goat cheese cashew caramel). Just keep in mind that since everything is made fresh daily, they might run out of what you’re looking for - so if you really want something, come early.
If you haven’t gone to Shawn Michelle’s in Bronzeville, that needs to change immediately. This place makes fantastic ice cream, with creative flavors that are interesting without seeming like they’re trying too hard. Though handmade ice cream can sometimes have an issue with ice crystals, you won’t find that here - it’s all smooth and creamy. Order flavors like honey cinnamon graham cracker (which has a perfect balance of crackers and honey), the rich and creamy banana pudding, or the Delta, which tastes like an oddly satisfying creamy Kool-aid. If you’re a first-timer, expect to be practically force-fed samples of their signature flavors by the friendliest people who seem like the only thing they care about in this world is for you to like their ice cream - which you will.
Scooter’s also serves frozen custard that’s made fresh daily. It’s usually a lot more crowded than Lickity, and the interior isn’t quite as cute - but the custard here is thick and delicious, and it’s still our fifth favorite spot in Chicago. Get the PB&J concrete: vanilla custard blended with liquid peanut butter and black raspberry topping. Then plan to make room in your kitchen for all the “liquid peanut butter” you’ll be ordering from Amazon.
Carnivals can be fun and terrifying, and they tend to involve both lines and funnel cake. The same could be said of the funnel cake sundae at Sugar Shack in Bridgeport, which is exactly what it sounds like, i.e., an ice cream sundae piled on top of some funnel cake that you’re going to have to wait in line for. It’s delicious, and although you may briefly wonder what it will do to your body, you also won’t care.
Margie’s has been around since 1921 and looks like it. This is the kind of place where an adult can order the “World’s Largest Terrapin” - a sundae with 15 scoops of ice cream - and not feel judged. Does Margie’s Candies have the best ice cream in Chicago? No (although the ice cream is still really good). What it does have is the best ice cream experience. Eat your giant sundae in a clamshell bowl with gravy boats of homemade hot fudge and caramel on the side, or take said sundae to-go when it’s too nice to sit inside somewhere, no matter how charming that place is.
This classic Beverly ice cream shop opened in 1926. It definitely gets points for nostalgia, but at the end of the day, you’re here for one thing: the rainbow cone. It’s made with layers of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (vanilla with walnuts and cherries), and pistachio ice creams, plus orange sherbet. While this may not be the combination you’d go for on your own, all the flavors work perfectly together. You want this ice cream cone.
This is a Japanese soft serve shop in Wicker Park, and while the menu isn’t as limited as the Original Rainbow Cone, it still only has two flavors to choose from: matcha and sesame. The soft serve here is perfectly creamy, and both varieties are well balanced. The best thing to do is order the Rakki Royale, a swirl of both that comes with red beans, white mochi, coffee jelly, chestnut, rice puffs, sesame brittle, and a piece of matcha cheesecake. It’s not too sweet, has a lot of different textures, and is something you need to have.
There are a few La Michoacanas in Chicago, and the one we really like is in Pilsen. It has a drive-thru, the people are friendly, and they have great paletas and regular ice cream. The treats here are very sweet, perfect for when you want a dessert that tastes like dessert, because not everyone wants an abundance of goat cheese or matcha. Our favorite is the cajeta ice cream, which tastes like frozen condensed milk in the best way, and the rice pudding cream paleta, which is milky and sweet with little bits of rice in it that we really like.
This Andersonville shop sells lots of sugary things - like candy, baked goods, and, of course, ice cream. The ice cream they serve is from Chocolate Shoppe, a Wisconsin brand, and you’ll find 32 flavors that rotate regularly (including sugar-free and dairy-free options). The ice cream alone is good, but we like coming here for sundaes in particular. They make sure to put hot fudge on the inside of the cup as well on top, which means you get plenty in each bite. This place is always packed, so get your sundae and walk around all the neighborhood antique shops - just don’t get ice cream on any Fabergé eggs.
A little walk-up stand in Little Italy with fantastic Italian ice. Which we understand is not ice cream. But this is your summer power move when you need a break from the richness of creamier sweets (or just a palate cleanser between two other ice cream stops). All the flavors are good, but the go-to here is the lemon. It’s the perfect mix of tart and sweet, with little chunks of lemon rind adding freshness.
Annette’s is a takeout window in Lincoln Park that does both Italian ice and ice cream. We prefer the Italian ice at Mario’s, but we like that you can also get ice cream at Annette’s. It’s a perfect neighborhood spot - the kind of place you might stroll by while walking your dog. Go with a hot fudge brownie sundae.