Eight Great Ice Cream Parlors in Boston

With pristine milk flowing into Boston from the fields of New England’s best dairy farms, it’s no surprise that The Hub has so many great ice cream parlors churning their own.
boston ice cream parlors

1. Rancatore’s

Ranc’s is easily and sorely overlooked. Aside from the design-y, Italian injection-molded plastic chairs, the place seems like your standard suburban ice cream shop. But this place is all about subtlety. While many ice cream parlors are into ramped-up flavorings, Ranc’s exercises restraint. Their flavors accent and complement the ice cream, letting the nuances of the dairy come through. Cinnamon-Nutmeg is not overly floral tasting, but rather hums with the warmth of fresh baked goods; Coconut is skillfully infused with the tropical seed’s flesh; Sweet Cream is tangy, with the rich complexity of a fine French butter. 283 Belmont St., Belmont, MA (617-489-5090)

2. Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream

Attached to a tiny spice shop (which they own) Christina’s is at no loss for new and inventive flavor ideas. Using a less-sweet, judiciously rich ice cream base to allow flavorings to take center stage, they produce well over a hundred different flavors of ice cream throughout the year. Many are straightforward classics, but there are plenty that push the ice cream flavor envelope. We’re not talking squid ink or bacon here, though—more like Cinnamon Rice Pudding and Chocolate Chinese Five Spice, unique flavors that people might actually go for without the probing of a dare. My favorites include Burnt Sugar, Carrot Cake, and Mexican Chocolate. 1255 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA (617-492-7021; christinasicecream.com)

3. Brigham’s

The fluorescent lighting, soda counter, silly 1980s ice cream posters on the wall, and blue/yellow striped color scheme might make you think you’re in for sleazy, emulsifier-ridden ice cream. But no…as cheesy and campy as Brigham’s looks, the ice cream is actually damn good. High-quality Vermont milk, a generous 15 percent butterfat content, secret Madagascan vanilla extract, and strawberries from the Pacific Northwest are some of the factors that have kept this major New England brand going since 1914. Sundaes and splits are the things to get here; the peanut butter sauce is genius (I think it’s just melted creamy peanut butter), especially when paired with anything banana. 109 High St., Boston, MA (617-482-3524; brighams.com)

4. Toscanini’s

This place has been a Cambridge institution since the early 80s, and people are fanatical about the ice cream. Proof: In early 2008 the Massachusetts Department of Revenue closed and seized Toscanini’s for nonpayment of taxes. The news so shocked fans that they banded together, donated money to help pay the tax bill, and Toscanini’s reopened. It all sounds ridiculous, but if you’re familiar with Toscanini’s ultra-silky, super-creamy ice cream, it makes sense. Add to that equation well-executed flavors that are mega-intense (Burnt Caramel should not be missed, nor should Espresso, and the ever-elusive Vienna Finger Cookie is totally boss) and you too would do whatever it takes to keep the joint open. 899 Main St., Cambridge, MA (617-491-5877; tosci.com)

5. J.P. Licks

The art and two-tone Holstein décor in the parlors of this local chain embody the funky soul of Boston’s bohemian Jamaica Plain (J.P.) neighborhood. But make no mistake—this ain’t some hippy-dippy attempt at selling ice cream. Quality is king at J.P. Licks, and the ice cream is impeccably well crafted, as it’s been for more than 25 years. The results are a sensibly rich product with balanced sweetness: an ice cream that lends itself well to toppings (don’t miss their bittersweet hot fudge—the most intense in town). As far as flavors go, look for their flavor of the month. It’s not just one ice cream flavor, but an exploration on the themed ingredient: If Oreo is in the spotlight, for example, they’ll offer a selection of Peanut Butter Oreo, Fresh Banana Oreo, Strawberry Oreo, and so on. 352 Newbury St., Boston MA (617-236-1666; jplicks.com) plus numerous locations throughout the Boston area

6. Ron’s Gourmet Ice Cream & 20th Century Lanes

A scruffy candlepin bowling alley in Boston’s southernmost Hyde Park neighborhood sets the scene here. And while the homespun ice cream is the highlight, so is the total Ron’s experience. It’s a community hub, a stumping ground for politicians, and most of all a step back in time into a friendly neighborhood business that emanates a kick-ass family rec-room feel. Ron is actually on hand to scoop your ice cream, as are his son, daughter, and wife. Their MO is simple: take good care of you, the customer. The ice cream is buttery, with a freshly churned, almost gooey texture, and flavors are simple. Brownie Nut and Mocha Almond are two that should hit the spot, and if you’re thirsty, so should Ron’s sweetly tart raspberry lime Rickey. 1231 Hyde Park Ave., Hyde Park, MA (617-364-5274; ronsicecream.com)

7. Gigi Gelateria

Located in the North End, Boston’s Little Italy, sleek-looking Gelateria bills itself as the city’s first and only authentic Italian ice cream parlor. Their gelato is deceptively creamy (it contains no heavy cream, no butter, and no eggs) and has a low, 2.5 percent butterfat content (most ice cream is between 10 and 15 percent). I typically hit this place during the sultriest part of summer, those torrid days when ice cream seems too heavy. Gelateria’s lighter gelato style is refreshing and the perfect foil for fruity flavors, like Limoncello (my favorite). But the best thing to do here is sample before ordering: Gelateria has 50 flavors on hand. 272 Hanover St., Boston, MA (617-720-4243; gelateriacorp.com)

8. Picco

This is Boston’s grown-up pizza/ice cream parlor (the name is short for Pizza and Ice Cream Company). But don’t let the trendy South End address and upscale look intimidate you; the attitude here is fun and casual. And while you can certainly drop in for a cone to go, it’s Picco’s plated and alcohol-laced ice cream offerings that shine. For the full experience, snag a seat at the old-timey soda fountain/bar and order the Toasted Ginger, a warm slice of ginger bread topped with ice cream, raspberry sauce, and whipped cream. And to wash it down, check out the Cow Tipper Frappe, a thick milk shake of stout and vanilla ice cream. Sounds bizarre, but the malty bitterness of the beer blends nicely with the ice cream’s sweet creaminess. 513 Tremont St., Boston, MA (617-927-0066; piccorestaurant.com)

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