Toronto is the ice cream capital of Canada — maybe even the entire universe.
Just try to disagree. Popular spots have longer lineups than their neighboring nightclubs. I can’t go anywhere without mentally mapping out the nearest novelty ice-creamery. We’ve been blessed/plagued/overwhelmed with too many delicious options this summer. It’s a really good problem to have!
To make the most of this summer, I started a mission to try all the best frozen dairy products in Toronto and beyond. I called it Ice Cream All Summer Sixteen, and it was the best decision I have ever made in my life. My ice cream adventures have taken me across the city, around the GTA, and out to some pretty ‘sweet’ small towns!
Summer isn’t over yet, so make sure you get out there and get your last few ice cream adventures in! Don’t know where to start? Below is a roundup of the best of my local ice cream finds, and my recommendations.
Best Unusual Flavours: My pick goes to Death in Venice, where the gelato is not only handcrafted locally, but incorporates unusual sweet, savoury, and just plain surprising flavours from around the world. Why order Chocolate when you can indulge in a scoop of Chocolate, Bourbon & Smoke? Find them at the Constantinople Bakery at Queen/Bathurst, or at the Union Summer Market before September 5th.
Best Variety: You can be completely overwhelmed by the vast selection at Bang Bang Ice Cream & Bakery — luckily, you’ll probably have a long lineup to think about all your options. Get your ice cream sandwiched between freshly-baked cookies, or wrapped in a Hong Kong-style egg waffle, or nestled into a cinnamon bun. If the novelty sandwiches aren’t doing it for you, combine scoops of creative flavours like The Bee’s Knees (Chamomile + Salted Honey), Totaro (Taro + Ube + a cute Studio Ghibli pun), or Mud (does not contain any actual mud.)
Best Cone Alternative: What better way to keep three scoops of ice cream contained than a GIANT TACO (pictured above.) You can top your Booyah! taco cone with all kinds of sweet sprinkle-ables, and feel like a totally mature and sophisticated adult human who makes great decisions on a bench crowded with children who are only half as psyched as you are. They use Ontario’s own Kawartha Dairy ice cream, so you really can’t go wrong. Shout out to the Dutch Dreams waffle bowl sundae, which is only a quick stroll away to get your fresh fruit, cotton candy, and Drizzy flavour fix.
Best of Tiny Tokyo: When you’re anywhere near St. Patrick station, you have to eat ice cream. Fugo makes these really great, super-decadent cones with distinctive, carefully-placed toppings. The Cookie Monster cone is a social media fave, but rest assured, their blue variant on Cookies & Cream is just as delicious as it is visually-appealing. Afterwards, skip the rapidly-spawning Uncle Tetsu storefronts and check out Tsujiri, another Japanese matcha cafe chain, which is home to my favourite matcha soft serve ever. Ask for a sprinkle of black sesame topping, and the taste and texture is total perfection. And just a little ways west, Sweet Sammies’ Scoop Shop combines artisanal flavours with homemade cookies — opt for a few of the mini sandwiches so you can try them all, and make sure Southern Belle is one of them!
Best of Kensington Market: If I could have a daily supply of any one ice cream in the entire city, Kekou’s Black Sesame would be it. I wouldn’t let this arrangement keep me from eating other flavours, though — otherwise I wouldn’t get to indulge in their almost-as-equally-delicious Chocolate-Ginger. Kekou combines East Asian-inspired flavours with smooth, indulgent gelato. For the perfect intesection of variety and quality, Sweet Olenka’s is home to a variety of rich and delicious flavours like Pistachio Hibiscus, and adorable themed ice cream bars. And if you’re looking for something a little lighter, Seven Lives can satisfy with their fruity soft-serve and paleta offerings.
Best Popsicles: Local and handmade, the Harvest Fudge pop at The Pop Stand will give your childhood memory of Fudgesicles a run for its money — along with a delicious variety of other flavours, all made with fresh and natural ingredients. The Pop Stand pops up around the city at events and markets, so keep an eye out for it! You can catch it until September 3rd at the Club Monaco Market in Yorkville.
Best Ice Cream Rolls: These things have been popping up all over the city, and they are sheer genius: rolls of photogenically curled ice cream, sprinkled with creative toppings. If you’re going to try one, check out the Tiramisu flavour at Nice Pan in Kensington, which incorporates crumbled ladyfingers and gourmet coffee.
Best Non-Dairy: Believe it or not, I used to have a hard time digesting lactose. I think I just forced my body to get used to it through sheer willpower! Whether for those with an intolerance much stronger than mine, or a decision not to consume dairy, vegan ice cream always seems to have a high demand. For more than just a dairy-free option on a larger menu, Cosmic Treats is a completely vegan restaurant and dessert cafe, offering ice cream cones and classic banana splits without even a trace of dairy.
Worth the trek to Markham: Sweet Escape is a dessert cafe that does it all: ice cream, tarts, roll cakes, hot plates, and the cutest/sweetest decor to match. Their ice cream is handmade in-house, and their flavour offerings change based on what’s in supply — try the beautifully-blended Earl Grey if it’s on the menu!
While you’re in the area, stop by the New Kennedy Plaza’s food court to indulge in some Hong Kong-style egg waffles. The infamously cute Wooffles & Cream are served up with toppings baked right into the puffs of the waffle, topped with a decadent twist of flavoured soft-serve. If you’re a fan of the sweet/savoury combo, try the Lap Cheung (Sausage and Seaweed) with vanilla ice cream.
To make a day out of it, park anywhere along Main Street Unionville. Between the staple scoop at Old Firehall Confectionary and the variety of gelato at Flavours of Unionville, you’ll have a newfound appreciation for the GTA.
Worth the drive to Oshawa: Sometimes the ice cream scene feels like a contest of who can pile on the most lavish assortment of toppings. If that were the case, Hollywood Cone would have a leg up on the competition. Their Mutant cones and shakes are decked out with so many layers of candy, snacks, and sauces, that all you really need underneath is a classic choice of Vanilla or Chocolate.
Worth a visit to Mississauga: This one comes on behalf of a friend, but it’s on my to-do list: Port 1 Cafe & Gelateria is a Port Credit dessert spot where artisanal gelato is made in-house. They are currently gearing up for fall with flavours such as Green Apple and Salted Caramel, which sounds like a deliciously autumnal combination.
Best #Overrated Ice Cream: To bless your mouth, or not to bless your mouth? I first checked out Sweet Jesus last year when it opened, and while I was stuck in an hour of traffic on the DVP, my ice cream companion joined the end of the lineup. Guess whose wait was longer? (Hint: Not mine.)
I’m not one for the ice cream hype — I have to really enjoy the ice cream I’m eating. There are popular places and vendors that haven’t garnered a mention because I simply haven’t enjoyed my experiences there. Nonetheless, I love Sweet Jesus. I love the quirky ice cream names, the abundant toppings on classic base flavours, and the ridiculous wall art. They’ve rekindled my childhood love of soft-serve, but elevated, and with a twist. Just think of the long wait as an opportunity to have the most ridiculous conversations with your friends — it’s what everyone else is doing!
What’s the best ice cream in your city, whether it’s Toronto or anywhere else in the world? Which local spots should I make sure to visit before the heatwave ends? Recommend some of your favourites below!