It’s summer, if you haven’t noticed, and though ice cream is a year-round treat, it’s especially sweet when the sun shines without mercy. Frozen yogurt and shaved ice are nice, but you and I both know true happiness comes with more butterfat than that.
Los Angeles is full of top-notch ice cream, with destination shops almost anywhere you’re willing to drive. Many of these are part of a new wave characterized by salted caramel and Twitter accounts, with monomaniacal artisans taking daily cues from what’s growing in the garden. Flavors rotate, mostly for our benefit. Twenty-first-century Los Angeles is a great place to be an ice cream fiend.
Here’s the cream of the crop.
(Note: For the purposes of this round-up, I am not differentiating between ice cream and gelato. Please see Google for the distinction, which hardly matters when you’re shoveling a triple scoop into your mouth.)
This artisanal gelato shop is a longtime favorite, one of the only dessert spots to ever grace Jonathan Gold’s famous L.A. lists. The original location is tucked into an Altadena strip mall, so small and unassuming it isn’t visible from the street; you have to look for it from the parking lot. The gelato is the work of a master —light, delicate and luxurious, each flavor a distillation of its core ingredients. The pistachio is renowned; the hazelnut worthy of song; the mango tastes like it fell off the tree fully formed. If you’re in the mood for a little adventure, try the yogurt with olive oil, or the buffalo, which tastes like mozzarella might if it melted in your mouth. And if you’re just a vanilla kind of guy? Bulgarini’s has the best around. Other flavors of note: Florentine chocolate with sea salt, goat cheese with cacao nibs, crema di limone.
749 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena, (626) 791-6174; 8686 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 815-1723, www.bulgarinigelato.com.
Carmela Ice Cream
Carmela is named for an Italian grandmother, and I wonder what she would make of the spiced strawberry sorbet, laced with balsamic and black pepper, or the sweet, fragrant rose petal. Both flavors are trendy, interesting and delicious, but Carmela might shine most in its highbrow tweaks of classic flavors. The fresh mint with cacao nibs is better than any mint chip I’ve ever had; the vanilla bean gets upgraded with brown sugar or lemon verbena; strawberry meets its tangy match in buttermilk. Other flavors of note: cucumber sorbet, blackberry Malbec, brown butter and sage, salted caramel.
2495 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 797-1405; 7920 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (323) 944-0232; also available at select farmers markets and specialty food stores; www.carmelaicecream.com.
Gelateria Uli is a new operation in the Spring Arcade building in historic downtown, where metal spoons on gelato bowls play the tune of gentrification. The shop is charming, the people are friendly, and the gelato is downright stunning. It has this silky, buttery texture, and each bite feels substantial until you press against it with your tongue and it melts across your palate. The gelatos and sorbets are made fresh daily, and the water-based sorbets are somehow as smooth and rich as the gelatos. The flavors are pure and pronounced. Uli makes beautiful pistachio and hazelnut, dark chocolate and stracciatella; strawberry sorbet comes straight out of Harry’s Berries. The Speculoos gelato is sweet and addictive, and it goes well with the bold, bitter green tea matcha. Still not impressed? Try the beet tarragon or the sesame halva. Other flavors of note: nectarine, poblano, basil. And if you don’t see what you want, Uli also takes suggestions. Go nuts.
541 S. Spring St., Suite 104, Los Angeles, (213) 900-4717, www.gelateriauli.com.
Mashti Malone’s Ice Cream
If you were a Persian living 400 years before Christ, you might have dined on a chilly treat of rose water ice and vermicelli noodles, one of the earliest forms of ice cream. Today, you can get a refreshing cup of faludeh at Mashti Malone’s, topped to taste with lemon juice or sour cherry syrup. Mashti also does impeccable full-fat kid-pleasing ice cream, with a strong selection of both standard and Persian flavors. The Turkish coffee and black cherry are good enough to eat by the pint; the creamy rose water is faludeh’s tantalizing descendant. Other flavors of note: saffron rose water, ginger rose water, peanut butter cup. Get your ice cream as a Mashti, sandwiched between two wafers. If you want! Up to you.
1525 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood, (323) 874-0144, www.mashtimalone.com.
Milk is the dominant ice cream parlor serving this busy stretch of Beverly with all the nice restaurants and the nice homes with permit only street parking. It is the only ice cream place where I’ve ever seen a celebrity, and this seems appropriate. The ice cream is great, more classic in tone than most of the others on this list. You can get a fat banana split or brownie sundae, an excellent scoop of pistachio or vanilla ice cream. The banana dulce de leche and Thai tea are a bit more unusual but just as easy to eat. Other flavors of note: raspberry, red velvet, mint. Try the mint in an ice cream sandwich made with big crunchy macarons dipped in chocolate.
7290 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 939-6455, www.themilkshop.com. A Silver Lake location is coming.
Paciugo is a chain that arrived in California by way of Texas and Italy. Don’t let that deter you from going. The gelato is superb, butter-smooth and dripping with flavor. The list of flavors is long, long, long, and somehow, all of them are great. The yardstick pistachio and hazelnut are unimpeachable, and it turns out panna cotta and tiramisu are delicious as gelato. The panna cotta in particular is a lovely subtle ice cream, and it pairs well with sorbet. Try it with the papaya -- that sorbet will take you places. Other flavors of note: Amarena black cherry swirl, black pepper olive oil, Mediterranean sea salt caramel. Soy ice cream also available.
1034 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach, (310) 379-2525; 7777 Edinger Ave., No. 170, Huntington Beach, (714) 373-4573; 190 W. Hillcrest Drive, Suite 65, Thousand Oaks, (805) 497-4449; www.paciugo.com.
Of all the places on this list, Paradis traveled farthest to arrive in our city. It originated in Denmark in 2000, and expanded to several locations in its native country before opening shop in L.A. The ice cream is pretty unique, with a soft, ethereal texture. It’s low in fat but plenty creamy, melting in your mouth like wet cotton candy. Try the Ferrero Rocher or the salty caramel with fudge -- these are rich flavors, but they come across as very refreshing. The sorbets are feathery and light, and I particularly like the strawberry and mango, which are loaded up with fruit flavor. Other flavors of note: elderflower, apple, peach, milk with cherry sauce and chocolate.
2323 Honolulu Ave., Montrose, (818) 248-1004; 5305 E. 2nd St., Long Beach, (562) 438-8580; 7821 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 891-8286; www.paradis-icecream.com.
The original Pazzo occupies prime real estate in Sunset Junction, where it’s been cooling down Silver Lake since 2006. It’s an Eastside favorite, serving fresh gelatos and sorbets alongside Intelligentsia coffee. The gelato is smooth, wet and creamy, always delicious and never too sweet. I love the strawberry custard, a light, fluffy gelato that recalls the way strawberry ice cream awed me when I was a child. The Greek yogurt with honey is tangy and rich with flavor, and it goes particularly well with Pazzo’s many exquisite sorbets. Pazzo is one place where I almost prefer sorbet to gelato -- their sorbets are made with local produce, organic when possible, and they are world-class creations. Pear sorbetich tastes like reconstituted pear, with the distinctive flavor and gritty texture of the flesh intact. Other flavors of note: almond fig, mascarpone orange chocolate swirl, fresh mint, chevre sour cherry, blood orange, guava, mango, really every fruit sorbet.
3827 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 662-1410; 1910 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, (213) 353-9263; 735 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, (213) 489-9020; www.pazzogelato.net.
In ice cream lingo, Quenelle:scoop: Melisse:Rite-Aid. It’s French for “spoon,” and you only see crafted spoonfuls of ice cream in plated desserts at fancy restaurants. Lucky for you, Quenelle offers quality scoops in an unpretentious Burbank setting. The ice cream is tremendous -- creamy, luscious and flavor-rich. The mascarpone vanilla deserves a trophy, and it’s hard to say whether it’s better alone or with a tart, refreshing scoop of blood orange sorbet. Other flavors of note: blueberry pie, strawberry shortcake, Earl Grey, watermelon sumac Greek yogurt. You can get fancy toppings like coconut feuilletine or caramelized rice.
2214 W. Magnolia Blvd., Unit A, Burbank, (818) 843-1035, facebook.com/quenellespoon.
Saffron & Rose
This is the Westside’s champion of Persian ice cream, a tiny shop where samples are actively encouraged. The ice cream is thick, chewy, marvelously substantial; the flavors pronounced and enticing. The saffron pistachio is the flagship flavor, a bright yellow ice cream loaded with aromatic saffron and nuggets of pistachio. Other flavors of note: orange blossom, creamy lavender, white rose, cappuccino.
1387 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 477-5533, www.golobolbol.org.
You can’t talk about L.A. ice cream without mentioning Scoops. Scoops is like the Kogi of ice cream, a pioneer enterprise that sparked Angelenos’ appetites for small batches of unique, adventurous flavors. The original location is on Heliotrope in East Hollywood, and is so iconic that it practically defines the street. The ice cream is fantastic, milky and fast melting. If you order more than a scoop, resign yourself to a (delicious) terminal puddle of ice cream soup. The flavors rotate frequently, but the brown bread is always there for you. It’s a new L.A. classic, a cool variant on vanilla, studded with toasted grape nuts. Caramel Oreo and strawberry balsamic make frequent appearances, and they are both delightful. Other flavors of note: honey horseradish, orange basil, honey ricotta toffee, black sesame, blackberry porto.
712 N. Heliotrope Drive, Hollywood, (323) 906-2649; 727 N. Broadway, Los Angeles; 5105 York Blvd., Highland Park; 3400 Overland Ave., Palms, (323) 405-7055; www.scoopswestside.com.
Sweet Rose Creamery
Sweet Rose is the wildly popular little sister of the Rustic Canyon/Huckleberry family, serving small batches of fresh ice cream to sate the cravings of Santa Monica. It sources top-shelf ingredients from various pedigreed organic farms, and the quality shines through in the product. The ice cream is thick and decadent, firm enough to bite into but butter soft in your mouth. The salted caramel and fresh mint with homemade chocolate chips are the most touted “classic” flavors, and they are marvelous. The salted caramel is one of the best in a crowded field, with a deep caramel flavor laced with fleur de sel. The fresh mint is clean and refreshing, pure and potent in a way that reminds you that mint is an herb. The non-classic flavors rotate with what’s in season. If you go right now, you might catch an eye-opening nectarine sorbet. Other flavors of note: strawberry, almond fig, Caffe Luxe coffee, peaches and cream.
225 26th St., Suite 51, Santa Monica, (310) 260-2663; 826 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 260-2663; 7565 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 844-0944; www.sweetrosecreamery.com.