If you have family or friends from parts of the country that don’t have the pleasure of experiencing water ice firsthand, you may be used to these kinds of questions:
Ahhh…so chipped ice cream?
Is it just a weird way of saying “ice water”?
Is it, like, a 7-Eleven slushy?
So it’s basically just Italian ice, right?
And then you have to explain that while, yes, it’s similar to Italian ice and, yes, it’s also a little bit like a slushy, it’s far better and more refreshing than either of those things. Most importantly, you’ll only really get it if you try it. So whether you have a friend in town and want to introduce them to Philly’s favorite dessert, or you’re just on a mission to grab a cup from each neighborhood to prove that your go-to spot is the best, we’ve gathered nine of our favorites from around the city.
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Dre's Homemade Water Ice & Ice Cream
When the weather starts to make you sweat through your favorite shirt, Dre’s Water Ice is the first place you should hit up. At this West Philly truck, you’ll find flavors like sour apple mango, passion fruit, lemon, watermelon, and a few others that are all made with real fruit. Each spoonful has that silky smooth texture water ice is known for, and the flavors rotate regularly. So if you happen to see cherry vanilla, try to order it by the tub full and figure out the storage in your freezer later.
Water Ice is a deceptive dessert. Your mind knows it’s light and quick to melt so you start to ask, “How many more scoops can I get away with?” One spot with flavors that will make you want endless cups (especially since they have over 20 options) is West Philly’s Fred’s Water Ice. There’s nothing better than watching the scooper scrape through a tub of banana, fruit punch, grape, cocoa cream, and sour apple flavors, your cup getting stacked and then covered in frosty layers, and finally taking that first satisfying lick. And on days where you underestimate your water ice limit (which is rare), you can also get a warm funnel cake, a peppery hot sausage, or a creamy custard gelati topped with nuts and M&M’s.
A water ice and pretzel combo craving reminds us of the chicken or egg dilemma. We don’t know if wanting water ice is a gateway to the need for a pretzel, or if it's the other way around. We just know that you usually won’t find people eating one without the other. At West Philly’s Morrone’s, you can not only get housemade water ice with bits of fresh apple, but you can also go for four types of warm pretzels. And whether you order with one drenched in melty cheese or baked with pepperoni, they’ll go great with any of the 18 types of water ice. When we’re here we go for the strawberry lemonade. It’s the perfect mix of sweet and sour, and we couldn’t care less that it turns our tongues and lips bright pink.
On a sunny day, Overbrook’s King’s Water Ice usually has a crowd of people out front that can get as busy as the DMV on the weekend. The cash-only spot has some great classic flavors, like lemon, cotton candy, and passionfruit, as well as less-common ones like pistachio. As a bonus, they have things like pizza pretzels, shakes, and hot dogs when you want something savory to snack on. There’s nowhere to eat your treats outside, so it will be a race out of the parking lot before the icy mound in your $2 large cup starts to shrink a little.
Siddiq’s makes you feel like you’re on a Jersey Shore boardwalk that just happens to be in the middle of West Philly. The water ice flavors range from classics like lemon and raspberry to specialty flavors like coquito. And as the name suggests, they’re all made with real fruit. They also serve carnival food like funnel cake and cotton candy in addition to water ice, and you can hang out at their umbrella-covered tables to eat it all.
John’s is a classic. The Italian Market-adjacent spot has been around since 1945, and while the flavors change every so often, they always have their classic lemon, cherry, and chocolate (which are the best flavors, anyway). There’s usually a line, so be prepared to wait a bit especially on hot days.
When people who aren’t from Philly imagine a water ice spot, Jimmy’s is probably what comes to mind. The flavors (like lemon, strawberry, and mango) are basic, but just like what you’d get at a classic South Philly cheesesteak counter, that’s really all you want.
Tranzilli’s in Germantown is perfect (and not just because of their logo that looks like it was made with 1995 Word Art). They do their water ice both by the cup and in gallon “party buckets,” just in case you need enough to feed a small army of children. They usually carry around 30 flavors at a time, and some of our favorites include creamsicle, espresso, and mint chocolate chip.
When Pop’s first opened as a little pushcart in the summer of 1932, a cup of water ice was probably only a few cents. While we wish that were still the case, we’ll settle for the fact that Pop’s is still around mixing up new flavors every week. On top of all the traditional options, the South Philly spot also serves ones like iced tea, ginger ale, and banana split.