Classic Ice Cream Truck Treats, Ranked
Hot takes on cold treats.
Surely you have already heard the siren call of the ice cream truck as it makes its rounds this summer. Over and over it plays its slightly out-of-tune glockenspiel (?) song, calling children and adults out of their overheating apartments to purchase a treat that will spark their imagination, remind them of the fleeting nature of pleasure, and imbue them with a caloric and spiritual strength that they do not deserve but so desperately need. Its song is a Pavlovian haunting, a call to frivolous vice, a reminder of a childhood to which we can never return. Will you resist it, turn up your air conditioner, and suffer through another obligatory glass of water—or give in to the song of the ice cream truck?
Recently, the vast assembly of “The People on the Internet,” an unwieldy and unknowable communal force across social media platforms that is more cacophonous and ridiculous than a meeting of British Parliament, was puzzling over this meme, which questions us to do the unthinkable and choose, once and for all, the best ice cream truck treats. What seems like a simple question is undone by the very subjective nature of ice cream choice, but please allow us to try and rank them once and for all.
15. Snow cone
Alas, I must take this opportunity to say that the snow cone’s flavor profile does not live up to its visual splendor. Perhaps I am too familiar with the mechanics of snow cone construction—the coloring of the ice chips, the simple sugar and artificial color of the operation—so it has no hold on my imagination. While all ice cream melts, a snow cone, like snow, can become only one thing if not eaten quickly enough, water in a paper cone. And need I remind you what Frank Zappa warned us all in 1974: “Don’t eat the yellow snow.”
14. King Cone
I have to admit to you now, dear reader, that I have not myself eaten all of these ice creams. I have eaten many of them, but I don’t really remember the last time I had a “King Cone.” So I had to go to an anonymous source, who alleged that the King Kone is pretending to be something that it’s not. It’s a factory-made cone masquerading as a fresh scoop of sweet ice cream. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good! Calm down! It just means that it’s coming at 14th here.
13. Drum Stick
By that token, I’m going to give 13th to the Drum Stick. Slightly more compelling than the King Cone by virtue of its round shape and its invocation of a leg of meat in its name (good branding), it fares slightly better in our rankings.
12. Chocolate Eclair Bar
The chocolate eclair bar is a perfectly delicious snack, and far be it from me to shame or denounce anyone who gets seduced by its layered chocolatey goodness, but I cannot sit here and pretend that it’s the best chocolatey treat on this list. If you’re going for chocolate, I can think of some better options. And, oh, the hubris of purporting to recreate a chocolate eclair in bar form. It is a disrespect to cream filling and I dare anyone to disagree.
So this is a little tricky. Why disrespect a classic snow cone—you may ask—yet honor the arguably more obscure Screwball? Well, friend, it is precisely this obscurity that intrigues me. First of all, this ice cream has the same name as a cocktail that a hard-boiled film noir detective might order after a shootout. Secondly, its icy texture is more substantial than that of the snow cone, like an Italian ice… or dare I say, a sorbet. Finally, it has a gumball at the bottom. What in the world? This is the kind of retro, improbable choice that we don’t see nearly enough. Get to the bottom of your ice cream and pull out a freezing wet gumball. Absolutely, I say!
10. Push-Up Pops
These are delicious and hearken back to younger, wilder days, but they are easily purchased at the store and kept at home. Why not get something else at the ice cream truck, then run home to your stash of push pops in the freezer?
Love ‘em, but they belong in ninth. Creamsicles are delicious and defined by their hustle. They must blend fruit and cream flavors without the easy help of chocolate, and for that they must be applauded, but also kept humble. How else will they maintain their impeccable standards?
8. Fudge Pop
A fudge pop is the height of authenticity. Completely without pretensions. Unencumbered by fussy branding. Let’s call it what it is. It’s a Fudge Pop. You know exactly what you’re going to get, and that is beautiful.
I hemmed and hawed over this decision. I think this is actually one of my true favorites, but I wanted to account for its place in the broader pantheon of ice cream. The Chipwich is caught between worlds, and that is part of its beauty. It reaches across the aisle and links the ice cream world with the cookie world. So rarely is this boundary breached, and here so elegantly—so deliciously. About halfway through the Chipwich, one can often feel discouraged. “What have I signed up for?” you might wonder to yourself, as you take another bite of this cold, sweet burger. It is the choice to keep going, to power through the freezing sandwich, that defines a person’s life.
6 & 5. Anything with a Face (SpongeBob and Powerpuff Girls)
Lord knows our brains are wired to see faces all over the place, like that phenomenon where people see Jesus in their toast a lot. What the SpongeBob and the Powerpuff Girl bars present us with is the open and bright-eyed face of some of our most beloved heroes of fiction. They have no qualms with being eaten. They smile and welcome the opportunity to be consumed, annihilated. We rationalize, urgently, that surely being eaten is preferable to melting off the stick for these poor creatures. A morbid tale, yes, but one we love to tell, again and again. Plus, the eyes are gumballs and that is fun.
4. Strawberry Shortcake
I don’t know what to tell you. There is something iconic to me about the Strawberry Shortcake bar. I don’t ever order it, but I have it on good authority from my local ice cream truck driver that it is one of the most popular orders for adults. Like the eclair bar, it fails to live up to the thing it is trying to recreate, yet it does so more playfully.
3. Choco Taco
The Choco Taco achieves two things at once, which is part of its brilliance. It is not only high-concept, bringing together the ice cream and the Mexican food world. It is also delicious, one of the more luscious and flavorful of the ice cream truck offerings, and has some of the most compelling textural diversity on this list. The shell of the taco… the hardened chocolate… the joy of the ice cream within… the ingenious name. The Choco Taco is pure magic.
For our top contenders, I am becoming a full traditionalist. The firecracker is a refreshing, classic popsicle that is simple, no-fuss, and hits the spot. Sure, it looks like a missile, but what popsicle doesn’t? Sure, it is unquestionably patriotic, even in times of political crisis and ambivalence, but it is one thing we can count on in this crazy world. If blue flavoring dripping down your hands doesn’t say summer, I don’t know what does.
1. Ice Cream Sandwich
I wasn’t lying about being a traditionalist. The ice cream sandwich knows what it does well, and it does it. This defines success, for me. It is a chocolate sandwich with vanilla inside and it is the best way to get your ice cream and chocolate fix without the fanfare of an overbearing concept. We love how the ice cream sandwich gets better as it melts, its ice cream a smoother texture, and the cookies softer with every bite. The ice cream truck driver told me that it is definitely the most popular among adults. Are we kidding ourselves? Holding ourselves back from the exuberant maximalism of childhood? Perhaps, but I think actually we just know what we want. It’s not glamorous. it’s not especially unique. But it is perfect.