All ice creams are delightful, but some are more delightful than others — a bold statement that practically demands to be put to the test. We’re journalists, after all, and journalists pursue the truth. So we gave ourselves the absolutely grueling task of visiting ice cream shops across the city to rank them from worst to best, or enjoyable to most enjoyable.
We limited our assessment to traditional scoopable sweets: ice cream and gelato, sure, but no soft serve or custard. Each three-scoop purchase — most of which ended up being about $7 — consisted of chocolate, vanilla and a wild-card flavor. Four factors determined each shop’s ranking: taste, range of available flavors, price and the location’s overall vibe.
All right, enough of that. Let’s just get to the ranking, shall we?
This gelato and coffee chain is stylish and delicious, but its stingy servings and cringe-inducing prices landed it at the bottom. Dolcezza has a wide array of earthy, artisan flavors — mascarpone and berries, lemon ricotta cardamom and Thai coconut milk, to name a few — including refreshing sorbettos for the dairy-avoidant. Unfortunately, the largest size amounts to only about two-thirds of a cup of gelato. Considering what you pay, you might not leave totally satisfied. Multiple locations in Washington, Maryland and Virginia. Small (two flavors), $5.60.
Oh, Larry’s. After a notorious curmudgeon denies you service as a joke in this dingy basement-level space, he relents and offers you anything you’d like. Wonderful, if you go for flavors like lavender. Its white hue (in lieu of an artificial purple) hints at how natural it is, making it the perfect pick for a hot summer day. More traditional flavors like chocolate or vanilla, on the other hand, taste as though they were scooped right out of a grocery-store pint. 1633 Connecticut Ave. NW. Small (one scoop), $4.99.
It’s difficult to walk by the Pitango in Adams Morgan without peeking inside. The space is just that inviting, with its spacious seating in the air-conditioned indoors and the smiling customers seated outside — both of which contribute to its position above fellow gelateria Dolcezza. But that allure might disappear once you read the prices. Pitango charges $5.85 for its standard cup, which seems rather small, even after considering that gelato tends to cost more than regular ice cream. Its chocolate is as fudgy as its sweet black tea flavor is refreshing, but neither seems worth the money. 1841 Columbia Rd. NW. Additional locations in downtown D.C.; Capitol Hill; Reston, Va.; and Baltimore. Regular, $5.85.
Moorenko’s fresh ginger flavor is just the right amount of spicy, and the cherry stracciatella is one of the owner’s favorites for a reason. The ice cream is also a lot cheaper than its peers — a single scoop is $2.99 before tax — but, unfortunately, the product reflects that. Like Larry’s, some of Moorenko’s flavors can taste like what you may find at a grocery store, but the shop ranks higher because of its slightly larger portions and fun flavors (think umami chocolate and wild blueberry). 8030-B Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. Additional location in Frederick. Small (one scoop), $2.99.
This upscale ice cream truck is a little elusive — its daily locations are announced on social media with little notice. But if you manage to track Westray’s down, it is worth the effort. The truck earns the “fine” portion — if not the “est” — of its name with sophisticated takes on the classics, but it shines in its flavors meant “for the more adventurous”: burnt sugar, Thai tea, Southern maple corn bread. Don’t be thrown by the price — it includes tax, and the scoops are sizable. Plus, vibrant colors make the treat Instagram-friendly. Daily location shared on Twitter @WestraysFinest, two scoops, $5.50.
Jeni’s announces itself with the scent of freshly baked cones before you even walk through the door. It beckons you into the whimsical, Wonkaesque store, with a spacious upstairs that makes it easy to linger. Jeni’s is pricey, and the portions are small, but the ice cream makes up for it with its richness and range of flavors such as ricotta toast with geranium jam, gooey butter cake and salted honey pie. It is meant to be savored. (We think it is best eaten with tiny sample spoons.) 1925 14th St. NW. Additional locations nationwide. One scoop, $5.50.
This shop has earned its reputation as a Georgetown institution. With spoon-dwarfing portions — three enormous scoops cost just cents more than a tiny regular at Pitango — and perhaps the widest array of flavors out of every place on this list, it makes sense why the line outside Thomas Sweet often stretches down the block. The standard vanilla can certainly be skipped here, but why would you ever go for that when there are other, equally light flavors like heavenly cherry or coffee Oreo? 3214 P St. NW. Regular, $4.70.
If you have the cash to spend, this shop is a near-perfect destination. Each member of its rotating slate of flavors feels innovative, from honey lemon lavender to “everything” bagel. The latter was sold out when we visited — proof that when it comes to ice cream, weird can be good — so we went for sesame halvah instead and left quite pleased. The only downside here is that Ice Cream Jubilee’s physical space is tight, which might make its neighbor Jeni’s more appealing when the weather gets unbearably hot. (Even though Jeni’s portions are the teensiest bit smaller.) 1407 T St. NW. Additional location in Southeast Washington. Regular (two scoops), $5.45.
For old-school, nostalgic ice cream, this is as good as it gets. Trickling Springs is housed in the center of bustling Union Market and, in addition to milkshakes and root beer floats, sells milk from its flagship store in Pennsylvania. The ice cream consists of tasteful renderings of classic flavors — with a few surprises, like the mouthwatering raspberry brownie. The scoops are enormous and eminently shareable, which makes it the ideal spot for traditional ice cream. 1309 Fifth St. NE. Flagship location in Chambersburg, Pa. One scoop, $4.50.
After a spoonful of Dolci’s sinfully smooth gelato, you’ll see why the shop topped the others in every category — despite its lack of name recognition when compared with gelato competitors Dolcezza and Pitango. Its employees use time-tested techniques to whip up daily batches of Italian staples, variations on popular American flavors — birthday cake and sea salt caramel, for example — and even a few dog-friendly flavors so you can share the love with your pup. Dolci boasts a bevy of Italian pastries and coffee in addition to the gelato, of which the servings are generous but manageable. You’ll want to lick up every drop and plot your quick return. Multiple locations. Small cup, $5.50.