Food & Drink

The Best Classic, Sweet, Simple, and Unique Ice Cream in NYC

Updated On 05/20/2019 at 06:14PM EST Updated On 05/20/2019 at 06:14PM EST
Morgenstern's
Morgenstern's Banana Split | Pete Deevakul
Courtesy of Sugar Hill Creamery

Sugar Hill Creamery

Harlem

A family-owned scoop shop that makes everything in small batches, Sugar Hill Creamery features flavors like the Green New Deal -- an AOC-inspired ice cream made with spring peas and rhubarb -- and Despacito, a cream-cheese ice cream base folded with guava puree and flaky pastry that recalls the Puerto Rican quesito. You can get any of the rotating flavors layered between their selection of cookies and brownies, which are brought in daily from local Harlem bakeries.

Al Naimat

Jackson Heights

You might think that a Pakistani restaurant doesn’t scream “ice cream,” but Al Naimat’s kulfi faladool will change your mind. A kulfi bar -- made of sweet, cardamom-laced Indian ice cream -- is layered with falooda, a traditional Iranian dish made with glass vermicelli noodles, rose syrup, and milk. The result is a gooey, chewy, fast-melting sundae-like treat. With layers of texture and a floral note from the rose, it’s totally unlike any other ice cream on this list.

Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain / Michal H. Turkell

Brooklyn Farmacy

Cobble Hill

This old-fashioned soda fountain housed in a 1920s apothecary does sweet and salty better than anybody. Their Mr. Potato Head sundae, with potato chips, peanut butter, and caramel over vanilla ice cream, is crunchy and luscious, as is The Elvis, with banana, bacon bits, and a Brooklyn Brine pickle on the side. In the 1920s, an ice cream sundae cost about twenty-five cents; in 2019, these sundaes cost $15. Order one, get two spoons, and consider that modern medicine is a fair trade for the prices of yore.

Ample Hills | Lucy Schaeffer

Ample Hills

Multiple locations

Crammed full of gooey, crunchy, sweet, and salty mix-ins, Ample Hills is famous for its creamy bases and textured bites. Its shops are often packed with sticky children on the comedown from sugar highs, and the flavors are designed to make you feel like a kid again, too: Breakfast Trash features five kinds of cereal, including Cap’n Crunch and Fruity Pebbles, and The Munchies is packed with Ritz crackers, pretzels, M&Ms, and potato chips.

Morgenstern's | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Morgenstern's

Multiple locations

Among the best of the new breed of ice cream shops, Morgenstern’s offers transcendent takes on familiar flavors. Smooth, simple, and never overly sweet, its ice cream is the spiritual opposite of Ample Hills’ jam-packed pints. With salt-and-pepper pine nut, cinnamon whiskey, and salted chocolate, Morgenstern’s makes ice cream for adults. They do have toppings, but why complicate things? Keep it simple with a drizzle of hot fudge and enjoy two scoops of sophistication.

L'Albero dei gelati

L'Albero Dei Gelato

Park Slope

Gelato is churned at a slower rate than ice cream, decreasing the amount of air for a denser texture and more concentrated flavor. The owners of L’Albero Dei Gelato source their ingredients from small, sustainable farmers, including savory stuff like olive oil, bell peppers, eggplant, and zucchini flowers. If you’re wary (rightfully!) of vegetables in your ice cream, think outside the cone: Serve the savory flavors on a cheese plate or with a hunk of fresh-baked bread.

Paul Wagtouicz

La Newyorkina

Greenwich Village

La Newyorkina -- perhaps best-known for its fruity paletas, or ice pops -- also churns out a rotating selection of hand-made Mexican ice cream (which has a texture most similar to gelato, with less fat and air than a scoop of the American stuff) with flavors like tres leches, mango, and mole. Even if you usually skip the sprinkles, you’ll want to spring for their inventive, homemade toppings, which include pumpkin seed brittle, chipotle hot fudge, and goat’s milk caramel.

Republic of Booza | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Republic of Booza

Williamsburg

Booza, a 500-year-old frozen dessert, is made with resin and orchid root, which gives it a lower melting point and a distinctive, boingy elasticity. In the Middle East, the original booza was available in only one flavor: qashta, or “candied cream,” which tastes a little like burnt vanilla. If you want a taste of history, Republic of Booza keeps qashta on the menu, but you’ll also find traditional flavors like chocolate, coffee, and rocky road.

Peter Pan Donuts

Greenpoint

Peter Pan, a Brooklyn donut shop that’s been open since the 1950s, offers the city’s best sandwich in the summertime. Pick a donut -- any donut -- and they’ll slice it, then fill the halves with a humongous scoop of ice cream. I’m partial to a simple glazed, but trust whatever’s fresh out of the fryer. The tiny shop is always packed, and that’s okay: A donut ice cream sandwich is best eaten on a stoop, as quickly as you can, before it melts all down your hands.

Rita's

Coney Island

Philly-based coastal favorite Rita’s serves “old-fashioned custard” and italian ices. The slow-melting custard comes in simple flavors: Chocolate, vanilla, and a rotating set of specials. The italian ice, on the other hand, comes in an array of tart flavors and shocking colors. After a long sweaty day at the beach, order a “Gelati” and watch the disaffected teens in the Rita’s custard shack layer your choices of ice and custard for a refreshing parfait.

Courtesy of Sweet Moment

Sweet Moment

SoHo

Your Instagram feed is probably already teeming with colorful cones held up for the camera by perfectly manicured hands. If you have to prove to your friends that your life is fun, too, photograph a bingsoo -- a Korean shaved ice -- at Sweet Moment. While every detail of this café has been painstakingly designed for the Internet, the bingsoo, layered with bright purple taro or green melon balls, is delicate and delicious. Then again, at $8 for a cup or $18 for a plate, it better be.

Soft Swerve

Soft Swerve

Lower East Side

With flavors like ube purple yam, black sesame, and milk tea, Soft Swerve’s soft serve is rich with color and sweet without being cloying. Its Madame Vo Viet Cold Brew Coffee ice cream is as eye-opening as a cup of black coffee: Get it on a black chocolate cone for a dark, rich, nearly-bitter bite. Or get a swirl, top it with sprinkles, and be transported to the icy chocolate-and-vanilla soft serve of your childhood.

Sydney Bensimon

Van Leeuwen

Multiple locations

You’ve probably seen Van Leeuwen’s Pentagram-designed pints (well, the pints are 14 ounces, but who’s counting?) in ice cream cases around the city. They’re pastel, with a serif font, and cost about $8. For all the this-isn’t-your-daddy’s-ice-cream branding, the final product is actually pretty good. Its earned their spot on this list for its extensive vegan options, including millennial-bait flavors like Oat Milk Latte and old standbys like Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Made with coconut and nut milks, they taste almost as delicious as the real stuff.

OddFellows | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

OddFellows

Multiple locations

Born of a co-founder’s wife’s pregnancy cravings, OddFellows has been dipping the sweet stuff since it opened its first location in Williamsburg in 2013. Now on its fifth shop, you can sample rich creations like miso cherry, extra virgin olive oil, buttermilk honey blueberry, and vegan lime tarragon sorbet in Brooklyn and Manhattan.