Food & Drink

Where to Find LA’s Best Ice Cream, Gelato, and Popsicles

According to Coolhaus co-founder Natasha Case.

wanderlust creamery
Courtesy of Wanderlust Creamery

In LA, where it’s almost always ice cream weather, artisanal ice cream shops proliferate on practically every corner, and we couldn’t be more thankful. A cold, sweet, satisfying scoop is exactly what we all need to get over our now-canceled summer plans -- and keep us cool during this heat wave. Our city has no shortage of options, from soft-serve innovators to Mexican-style paleta masters and ice cream makers churning new, mind-blowing, melt-in-your-mouth profiles. But narrowing down the contenders is a difficult task. So we rang up Natasha Case, CEO and co-founder of craft ice cream empire Coolhaus, to help us sift through LA’s 31,000 flavors.

Along with her wife and co-founder, Freya Estreller, Case has developed their vision into a well-oiled machine that includes an innovation flagship in Culver City, a fleet of food trucks, and a recognizable presence in grocery stores nationwide. The brand’s creative, crave-worthy flavors made with high-quality ingredients is the approach of many an ice cream visionary today, but in 2009, Coolhaus was nothing short of revolutionary. Today, it continues to innovate, pushing unique flavor profiles and cementing key partnerships (like teaming up with women-led coffee producers in East Africa on their aromatic Queens Coffee pint). As a young, female entrepreneur who’s part of the LGBTQIA+ community, Case is passionate about supporting other marginalized groups; as part of her efforts, she’s looking into sourcing from Black-owned companies and partnering with incubator Black Girl Ventures to help its budding entrepreneurs.

Natasha Case
Photo: Natasha Case ; Illustration: Maitane Romagosa / Thrillist

Thankfully, Case says the pandemic hasn’t dampened customers’ desire for Coolhaus ice cream. “We run a business that isn’t expecting people to spend $150 a pop -- like with restaurants -- that’s a very different thing to have to translate to on demand,” she explains. “People love eating ice cream at home and taking that out of the stress of everything going on.” Right now, they’re even experimenting with new ideas, like booze-infused flavors that are sure to be another hit for the 11-year-old company.

Ready to grab a scoop (or a sundae, or a popsicle, or a... y’all get the picture)? Read on for 21 of the best places in LA -- vetted by the ice cream queen herself.

Jollibee

Multiple Locations
This Filipino fast-food joint, often dubbed the McDonald’s of the Philippines, is perhaps most famous for its hand-breaded fried chicken. But don’t sleep on Jollibee’s colorful take on halo-halo, a traditional Pinoy dessert that means “mix-mix” in Tagalog and offers up a hodgepodge of flavors in one plastic cup. Cold fruits, jellies, sweet beans, and coconut meat are layered with shaved ice and topped with creamy caramel flan and a heaping scoop of ube ice cream. Like the name suggests, you’re supposed to mix the various ingredients for a symphony of textures and tastes that’s absolutely delicious together.
How to order: Call or drive-through at select locations or via DoorDash

What the expert says: 
“I love hitting up Jollibee after a Filipinotown dinner with friends. It’s great for a super satisfying halo-halo that will hit the spot -- and Jollibee has a family-friendly one in terms of both price and portion. This dessert delivers in so many ways. The cool, refreshing texture of the coconut shaved ice, the sweetness and a bit of savoriness of the ube ice cream, the chewy beans and jellies, swirls of condensed milk, and I kid you not, it’s all topped with flan. If that’s not enough, you can even order it with avocado!”

Magpies Softserve
Courtesy of Magpies Softserve

Magpies Softserve

Silver Lake & Tarzana
Owners Warren and Rose Schwartz are both professional chefs who wanted to create an elevated take on Dairy Queen. Magpies is their brainchild -- featuring a made-from-scratch ice cream base, and flavors that remind you of the classics but are infinitely more sophisticated and upscale, like malted milk chocolate and sweetened cream. Also on offer? Flavors that evoke the Schwartz’s own childhoods, including pandan, concord grape jelly, and corn almond, as well as made-in-house toppings like chocolate-covered honeycomb, almond brittle, and butterscotch rice krispies. If you’re lucky, their famous fried ice cream pie will still be available -- can’t-miss layers of fudge, ice cream, candy honeycomb, whipped cream, and deep-fried corn flakes that meld soft, crunchy, and cold textures all in one heavenly bite.
How to order:  Website or via Postmates, Uber Eats

What the expert says: 
“Magpies brings freshness to the soft-serve game as everything is made from scratch in house, including the toppings. The offerings are mainly vegan with a few dairy exceptions, and there are lots of yummy breakfast-inspired flavors that rotate in, like Golden Grahams (my childhood fave). Not surprising as the flavors are meant to pay homage to the chefs’ childhood memories.”

wanderlust creamery
Courtesy of Wanderlust Creamery

Wanderlust Creamery

Multiple Locations
What started off as a small shop in Tarzana quickly turned into a household name (to ice cream lovers at least) after partners Adrienne Borlongan and Jon-Patrick Lopez opened a booth at Smorgasburg LA, as well as locations in Atwater Village, Venice, Fairfax, Pasadena, and Tarzana. If you couldn’t guess, the flavors here are inspired by far-flung destinations; Thailand’s famous dessert is channeled into a rice milk with coconut cream and swirls of mango, China gets an ice cream made from the beloved Chinese white rabbit milk candies, and the Philippines are embodied by an ube malted crunch influenced by Adrienne’s Filipino-American upbringing. 
How to order:  Website or via ChowNow, Postmates

What the expert says: 
“I love the idea of bringing the flavors you fall in love with while experiencing new places along with the amazing flavors you can find right here in LA via the ice cream format. Especially with quarantine, we could all use Wanderlust to bring our travel fantasies to life right now! From Vietnamese Rocky Road (genius to switch out the chocolate base for coffee) to Ube Malted Crunch (I’m married to a Filipina, so there’s no shortage of love for ube-based desserts around here) to the Mango Sticky Rice, which is so delicious and an option for those avoiding dairy (you won’t miss it), these flavors are oh-so-craveable and the closest you can get to transporting yourself, well, anywhere these days.”

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
Courtesy of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

Multiple Locations
Founded by Jeni Britton Bauer in 2002, Jeni’s is less about crazy, out-of-the-box flavors and more about interesting pairings -- often inspired by her childhood memories -- that ice cream consumers find unequivocally delicious. This Certified B corp chain of scoop shops, which first opened in Ohio, ditches synthetic flavors, dyes, stabilizers, and emulsifiers to whip up stuff like brambleberry crisp (which is peppered with oat streusel chunks based on a family recipe) and gooey butter cake (a riff on the the moist yellow cake Jeni’s mom would bake for special occasions). Most of all, however, they’re known for ice cream with unparalleled texture -- thanks to a buttercream-like body, it’s got a smooth-yet-slightly dense and chewy consistency.
How to order:  Website or via Postmates, DoorDash, Uber Eats 

What the expert says:
“A fan favorite from the Midwest, Jeni brings her flavor genius to multiple neighborhoods around LA where you can indulge in her artisan and sophisticated flavors. The ice cream is very driven by sensory pairings -- often unexpected, yet they make so much sense when you try them. I believe the Brambleberry Crisp is their top seller, but Jeni says her personal fave is the Lemon Buttermilk Yogurt. Yum!”

McConnell's Fine Ice Creams
Courtesy of McConnell's Fine Ice Creams

McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams

Multiple Locations
McConnell’s isn’t just an ice cream shop with cool flavors like Eureka lemon and marionberries -- it’s an actual dairy located in downtown Santa Barbara, and it’s been around since 1949 (although they recently finished construction on a new, built-from-the-ground-up dairy). Instead of slapping its brand on an outside manufacturer’s ice cream, McConnell’s makes everything from scratch, using grass-grazed Central Coast milk and cream and working exclusively with local farms. The family behind McConnell’s, now in its third generation of ownership, is obsessed with creating perfectly balanced scoops; the higher percentage of milkfat and lower percentage of overrun (the amount of air pushed into the ice cream as it’s made) results in a magnificently creamy product.
How to order:  Website or via Postmates, DoorDash, Seamless

What the expert says: 
“Hailing from not-do-distant Santa Barbara, McConnell’s has actually been around for over 50 years, but recently went through a modern upgrade while staying true to its classical roots. The quality and richness of their ice cream is no joke -- and honestly, classics like Chocolate Chip are some of their best.”

Coolhaus
Courtesy of Coolhaus

Coolhaus

Culver City 
Co-founders Case and Estreller were inspired by architecture when they first started baking cookies, making premium ice cream in boundary-pushing flavors, and combining the two into creative “cool houses” (hence the name Coolhaus). Along with their now-famous pre-packaged sammies, which you can find in the freezer aisle of hundreds of grocery stores across the country, they’ve expanded Coolhaus to include dairy and dairy-free pints in a range of crowd-pleasing flavors -- like street cart churro dough (which combines brown butter ice cream with a sugary cinnamon dough) or campfire ‘smores (a hard-to-put-down salted vanilla swirled with graham cracker cookie butter). For the true Coolhaus experience, a store visit to create a bespoke sandwich -- consisting of a freshly based cookie, ice cream, and toppings -- is a must.
How to order:  Website or via Postmates, Uber Eats, Caviar

Scoops

Multiple Locations
One of the first modern artisanal ice creameries to open up shop in LA back in 2005, Scoops set the bar with their cult-favorite flavor -- an innovative, Grape Nuts-based brown bread -- that’s now the only one they offer daily. While the original Scoops in East Hollywood has now closed, the other outposts in Highland Park, Chinatown, and Torrance rotate between flavors like banana malt burnt sugar, horchata Oreo, or ricotta honey toffee -- relying on the lighter, less fatty base they’ve used for years that allows you to taste the nuances in each scoop.
How to order: Text 323-285-1096 or via website

What the expert says: 
“Scoops was way ahead of the game in terms of this last decade’s wave of from-scratch gelato and experimenting with super unique flavors. The original location in East Hollywood was the destination for mine and Freya’s second date. We went straight (well, not straight -- get it??) for that iconic Brown Bread ice cream. That location is no longer, but there are now a few places around the city you can enjoy Scoops. I’m a big fan of the Chinatown location, which still serves Brown Bread. Or try the Strawberry Lychee (Freya will eat anything with lychee in it!).”

Antico
Antico | Courtesy of Julia Yang

Antico

Larchmont
Pre-pandemic, chef Chad Colby’s Antico was garnering accolades for his rustic pastas, while pastry chef Brad Ray was lauded for his freshly spun ice cream -- which, much to his credit, is often just a side note at other restaurants. Post-pandemic, the team pivoted to a takeout menu that thankfully includes Ray’s ice cream, now available by the pint for the very first time. It’s made with an industry-leading Carpigiani machine imported from Italy, which freezes the ice cream base evenly so ice crystals don’t form, while churning a bunch of air into it. The result? Spectacularly soft, light scoops in flavors like sea salt-finished honeycomb, vegan coconut caramel, and standout strawberry -- made with a puree of Harry’s Berries most prized fruit.
How to order: Call 323-510-3093 or via DoorDash, Caviar

What the expert says:
“This spot was doing well-loved Italian dishes for under a year when the pandemic hit, but the switch-up (literally billed as a COVID pop-up) to a focaccia pizzeria with ice cream has proved brilliant. Do your best to save room for a refreshing dessert -- because that you will receive, especially with the Honeycomb or Harry’s Berries Strawberry. All gelato is spun in-house.”

Van Leeuwen ice cream
Courtesy of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream

Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream 

Multiple Locations
Over the past decade, Van Leeuwen has come a long way -- from its humble beginnings operating out of a yellow, refurbished ice cream truck, to its now-ubiquitous pints in fancy grocery stores and expanding brick-and-mortar locations (24 in total!). Even 12 years after the company kicked off, Van Leeuwen still makes all its ice cream from scratch in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, using only a handful of ingredients, including fresh milk and cream, cane sugar, and egg yolks. They’ve also become well-known for decadent vegan scoops -- made with either housemade cashew milk or oat milk that’s combined with coconut cream, cocoa butter, and coconut oil for you-won’t-believe-it’s-not-dairy taste and texture.
How to order:  Website or via Postmates, DoorDash, Uber Eats, Seamless, Grubhub, Caviar

What the expert says: 
“I first came to know these folks via the food truck scene in NYC, and now they've made their way to LA with scoop shops known for their vegan varieties.They have one at Platform just down the way from our flagship/innovation center in Culver City -- where you'll find many fashionable folks noshing on their cones amidst good lighting and succulents (well, at least when we're not in lockdown). Try their vegan flavors made with cashews.”

Salt & Straw
Courtesy of Salt & Straw

Salt & Straw

Multiple Locations
This Portland-based, small-batch ice cream shop now has even more locations in LA (six!) than in its Oregonian hometown. That’s a testament to how much Angelenos go crazy for its tasty scoops and innovative concoctions, often made in partnership with local vendors. In addition to shilling “classic” flavors which are anything but -- like rainbow-sprinkled birthday cake folded with blackberry jam, or a spectacular take on cookie dough that’s made with massive, salty, malty chunks -- they have a monthly flavor series that’s resulted in some cult favorites, like March’s Pots of Gold & Rainbows. Each year, the Salt & Straw kitchen sorts hundreds of boxes of Lucky Charms® by hand, infusing the grainy cereal pieces into sweet cream and stirring in marshmallow charms into the finished product for a flavor that tastes exactly like the bottom of your breakfast cereal bowl (only far better).
How to order:  Website or via Postmates, DoorDash, Uber Eats  

What the expert says: 
“LA welcomed Salt & Straw -- a popular Portland scoop destination -- a few years back, and they have grown their presence to become a beloved destination here as well known for their out-of-the-box flavors. I actually enjoy the classics here most. Try the Salted, Malted Cookie Dough and you will be scraping the bottom of that cone for more.”

Happy Ice
Courtesy of Happy Ice

Happy Ice 

Fairfax
A former tattoo artist and reality TV star, Happy Ice founder Lemeir Mitchell has enjoyed an unconventional path to becoming a purveyor of water ice -- known as a type of Philly-style Italian ice that’s rarely found its way out of its hometown. As a born-and-raised Philadelphian, Mitchell was determined to introduce the iconic treat to Los Angeles, which you can now find at his roaming food trucks and recently opened Melrose storefront. If you’ve never had Mitchell’s water ice before, the ultra-smooth, ice cream-like texture might tempt you into thinking dairy is involved, but his rich, frozen treats are vegan-friendly and nut-free. In brightly colored flavors like strawberry lemon lush, mango madness, or rainbow rocket (a vibrant combo of all eight flavors that’s highly Instagrammable), these cool concoctions are the ultimate summer treat.
How to order: Call 323-425-7006 or via Uber Eats, Seamless, Grubhub

What the expert says: 
“Recently opened on Melrose, this Black-owned, creative water ice dessert spot draws inspiration from Philly, but it brings an Angeleno artistic twist. They also have a truck that will make you happy at just the sight of it. Vegan and nut-free, the product is like a bright and fruity punch of sorbet with a super smooth texture. Very needed in this current heat wave. Plus, since we’re all wearing more tie-dye than ever these days, our desserts might as well match our clothes!”

 Mizlala
Courtesy of Mizlala

Mizlala 

West Adams & Sherman Oaks
Although Mizala is billed as a Mediterranean grill specializing in spit-roasted shawarma and fluffy falafel, one of its best-kept secrets is the dessert -- specifically the shakes. In three flavors -- halva cinnamon, chocolate almond, and salted caramel -- these creamy concoctions are rooted in tahina, a thick, earthy paste derived from ground sesame seeds with a peanut butter-like texture. Generously spread in the restaurant’s stuffed pita sandwiches and often accompanying various plates, the nutty paste is blended with soy milk, ice, and dates for an incredibly rich dessert that tastes like a bonafide, full-dairy milkshake.
How to order:  Postmates

What the expert says: 
“Mizlala is a neighborhood gem in West Adams with a more upscale version located in Sherman Oaks. The setting is super charming with 100% cozy outdoor seating (ideal for these times). Make sure to save room (which is hard—because their savory food is delicious) for their tahini shakes... you won’t regret it! My personal favorite is the halva cinnamon, but they are all damn delish.”

Mateo's
Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars | Courtesy of Sean Cooley

Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars 

Multiple Locations
Founded by the late Oaxacan native Priciliano Mateo, beloved Mateo’s has made the fruity, Mexican-style popsicles called paletas for years, and its brightly colored passionfruit, guava, tamarind, and soursop treats match the vibrant interiors of its shops. If you’re not familiar with paletas, the wonderful flavors featured here might be unique to your palate, such as smoked milk with cactus fruit, mamey (a berry many describe as a cross between a pumpkin, peach, and sweet potato), and black sapote (often called chocolate pudding fruit) -- although you’re just as likely to find strawberry and banana split on offer, too.
How to order:  Postmates, DoorDash, Grubhub

Kansha Creamery 

Torrance
Founded by brother-and-sister duo James Tatsuya and Elaine Yukari, this South Bay gem churns ice cream fresh five days a week. While they’ve experimented with dozens of flavors over the years -- many of them Asian-inspired, like Japanese barley tea, black sesame, and kumquat marmalade -- they only carry about five a day, as well as a handful of parfaits. (The matcha is particularly popular, a medley of ice cream, matcha jelly, syrup, mochi, corn flakes, and sweet red bean paste, and whipped cream). At Kansha, which means “gratitude” in Japanese, the focus is always on giving back to the community-- whether it’s by utilizing organic ingredients from local farmers or donating 75 cents from every item sold to charities around the world. 
How to order:  Website or via Postmates, Seamless, DoorDash, Grubhub

Saffron & Rose 

Westwood
Some people say Persian ice cream (known for its stretchy consistency) isn’t for them because some flavors -- such as lavender, white rose, and jasmine -- are reminiscent of perfume. Don’t listen to these naysayers. Located in Westwood’s Little Tehran, Saffron & Rose often has a line of eager customers snaking out the door, waiting for its dense, gooey ice creams (and yes, flavors that often sound like fragrance notes but taste incredible). If you’re into sweet-tasting scoops, they’ve got you covered with milky cookies and cream or a luscious caramel crunch, while those with a preference for fruity flavors should order the light, delightfully refreshing cucumber or watermelon.
How to order:  Postmates, DoorDash, Uber Eats, Seamless, Grubhub

Sweet Rose Creamery
Sweet Rose Creamery | Abby Mahler

Sweet Rose Creamery

Multiple Locations
Part of the Rustic Canyon restaurant group -- which includes Santa Monica stalwarts like Cassia, Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe, and Milo & Olive -- Sweet Rose Creamery follows in the tradition of its sister eateries and utilizes the nearby Santa Monica Farmers Market for seasonal ingredients. That’s what gives each flavor a distinct freshness, from year-round offerings (like fresh mint made with organic peppermint leaves) to seasonal options (such as stone fruit sorbet or summer corn). The farm-to-spoon creamery even offers to-go bundles for picnic-friendly consumption, including a $110 ice cream sundae party pack that includes six pints, a jar of hot fudge, toppings, and everything else you need for the perfect summer afternoon.
How to order: Call 310-260-2663 or via ChowNow, Postmates, DoorDash, Uber Eats, Seamless, Grubhub

Midori Matcha Cafe

Little Tokyo
This little cafe only has a few soft-serve flavors -- matcha, black sesame, and hojicha -- but they do all three exceptionally well. Their matcha uses organic, ceremonial-grade, Japanese green tea that gives it a rich yet subtle flavor that tastes legit, while the hojicha has a earthy, roasted quality for a bolder appeal. If you can’t decide, opt for a swirl!  
How to order:  Postmates, DoorDash, Grubhub

Mashti Malone’s Ice Cream

Hollywood
Long-standing Mashti Malone’s is a direct rival of Westwood’s Saffron & Rose, but we’d be remiss not to mention both on this list. Like its competitor, Mashti makes scrumptious Persian ice cream in flavors like rosewater, lavender, and orange blossom -- all colored and flavored naturally using herbs and spices from Lebanon, India, and other countries -- and, if you so desire, topped with sour cherry syrup or lemon juice. Ask for a “Mashti” instead of a cone, and you’ll get a fat scoop sandwiched between two crisp, paper-thin wafers and rolled in crunchy pistachios. Order the “Malone” to get your ice cream served on a zoolbeyah -- an Iranian take on the carnival funnel cake that’s deep-fried and deliciously sweet.
How to order:  Postmates, DoorDash, Uber Eats

Mikawaya

Little Tokyo
Chances are you’ve seen Mikawaya’s recognizable boxes of mochi ice cream -- in straightforward flavors like green tea, vanilla, and strawberry -- at your local Trader Joe’s or Japanese grocery store, as the brand helped introduce this treat to Americans. That said, this confectionary shop tucked away in Little Tokyo’s Japanese Village Plaza is where you can try Mikawaya’s slightly more unusual flavors, such as dulce de leche, s’mores, plum wine, and salted caramel, encased in paper-thin layers of powdery, chewy dough.
How to order:  Postmates, DoorDash

POPS Artisanal Creamery

San Fernando & Van Nuys
From six generations of ice cream makers, this unassuming shop turns out a massive variety of melt-in-your-mouth tropical ice cream, served in standard cones or Instagram-friendly coconut bowls. Go for the exotic profiles like lucuma, a Peruvian superfruit with a maple-like taste; sugar corn, which owner Marthin Ken (whose father-in-law operated the original Helados Pops) perfected based on an old family recipe; or almond avocado, an extraordinarily unique flavor combo you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
How to order:  Postmates, Seamless, Grubhub

Gelateria Uli
Courtesy of Gelateria Uli

Gelateria Uli

Downtown & Beverly Grove
When owner Uli Nasibova traded in her finance career for frozen treats in 2014, no one could stop raving about her speculoos flavor, infused with crushed, caramelized bits of the beloved Belgian spice cookies. Now that it’s been six years since she opened her first location in downtown’s Spring Arcade -- often credited with helping usher in the area’s renaissance -- we’ve discovered that the rest of her made-on-site, silky-soft gelatos and sorbets are just as delicious. Profiles like horchata and black sesame are inspired by the city’s diverse communities; yellow peach sorbet and California pistachio represent the region’s seasonal produce; and stracciatella and pistachio pay homage to classic Italian gelatos.
How to order:  Website or via Postmates, DoorDash, Uber Eats, Grubhub, Caviar

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Tiffany Tse is a writer for Thrillist and has been researching for this article her entire ice-cream-eating life. Follow her adventures around town at @twinksy.