Ranking every ice cream place in Vancouver: #27-12

We’ve ranked beers. We’ve ranked burgers. We’ve ranked parks

So what is left to enjoy on a hot summer day in Vancouver, free of distractions, simple enough to enjoy quickly and affordability, yet delightful enough to come back to time and time again?

Ice cream.

Why are you doing this?

Ice cream is great, obviously. But more than that, ice cream is one of the things Vancouver has a lot of, ice cream is one of those things that is varied enough that virtually everyone has their own take on what is the best, ice cream is something that can be consumed by a bunch of friends in less than an hour, and ice cream is one of those things where there are a finite number of options within city boundaries. 

In other words, ice cream is a perfect thing to be ranked. Determining the best ice cream in Vancouver is a worthy endeavor. 

So that’s what we’re going to do, because what is free will anyways? if a local journalist starts making fun lists once in a while and people like it, and then the lists grow, and then his career grows, and then random people stop at municipal politics conventions saying “WHAT ARE YOU RANKING NEXT?!?” and then ask for a selfie, is he doing the rankings because it’s fun, or because he feels obligated? is this an act of pure joy, or the deterministic endpoint of which i am but a vessel? ice cream is fun!   

What’s the scoring system?

 First, we’re counting gelato and soft serve under the banner of  “ice cream”. Yes, you might be a big fan of one type over the other, but this list isn’t for you: it’s for the person that goes “I don’t care about the process, I just want something cool and creamy and tasty in a cup or a cone right now, and want to know what the best choice are.”

From there, we identified 27 places in the City of Vancouver, directly associated with the City of Vancouver (sorry, Dairy Queen) that had a reputation for good or famous ice cream and deserved to be included in this ranking. They’ve all been on plenty of “best of” lists, or at the very least those “here’s a bunch of random places you should try” articles, and we don’t believe we’ve missed noteworthy. 

(Note: this doesn’t include places that have only been open for less than six months, owing to our frequently observed fact that it takes businesses around that amount of time to really congeal into the full quality and experience they’re going for. It also doesn’t include things outside the City of Vancouver, because there are only so many hours in a day to rank things, and the proprietor of this website cares deeply about municipal territorial integrity)

From there, our ranking group (Justin McElroy, Steve Masuch, Gerald Deo, Micki Cowan, Ricardo Bortolon, Trevor Record, Steph Ryan, Geoff Lister, Andrew Carne, Alyssa Koehn, Isabel Ferreras, Laura Rodgers, Kat Green, Yara Van Kessel, Ross Howell, Justin Stevens, Emma Hammond, and Erin Rennie) scored each place out of 12, based on the following very intuitive metric:

QUALITY (5 points): Is it actually good? Are the ingredients in balance? Do the flavours pop without being too artificial? Does the taste (and form) hold all the way through, or does it get too melty/lose its edge/start off too hard? If you were doing a blind taste test away from the store, with cost being no concern, would it be a thing you would want again and again?

JOY (3 points): Here’s the thing about ice cream as an adult: it’s just cold flavoured puffs of cream and sugar, with variations here and there. Objectively, there are *better* things you could eat, and usually more interesting desserts. But the act of eating ice cream is an inherent one of simple joy, of delight in the display of options, fun in the atmosphere of the store, the warm feeling of the first bites that evoke Anton Ego’s flashback scene in Ratatouille, where, in the moment, everything is perfect. 

It’s a slightly different feeling than quality, but one that is still plenty important. 

MOUTHFEEL (2 points): Is it smooth? Is it consistent? Is the icy not too icy, and the cream not too creamy? If it’s an ice cream that is deliberately chunky, do the chunks add to the experience in a pleasing way, and is the unpredictability of when they will occur — and how big they will be — something that adds to the experience? These are secondary questions to those of overall quality and joy, but a definite thing that shows the craftsmanship of the ice cream in question. 

EXTRA (2 points): Cones. Ice cream sandwiches. Ice cream bars. Ice cream flights. Cheap prices. Outstanding service. And just wanting to give a bonus point (or take a point away) because of how you felt about everything: these are all valid reasons to like an ice cream place or not, all things that are hard to score within the context of an ice cream scoop by itself, but mildly important in formulating a ranking. Hence, the existence of this column. 

Each person was asked to have at least two scoops before inputting a score. In total, 249 scores were inputted across all the places considered, some after multiple visits. We took the average of each one. 

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here are the rankings of the best ice cream places in Vancouver.  

Tier 1: Not recommended

#27: Virtuous Pie (3.17 points)

There are many good vegan ice creams in Vancouver, but sadly they are not found in the places that serve exclusively vegan ice cream.

Virtuous Pie says in its tagline “Pizza + Ice Cream”, but there’s a very good reason their pizza is broadly talked about but their ice cream isn’t. 

There are only four flavours (Hedgehog, Black Forest, Vietnamese Coffee, and Vanilla Bean), and the three non-vanilla flavours are all barely discernible from one another. The scoops themselves have too many icy flakes. On one ranking trip, one person’s Black Forest scoop broken into tiny chunks while still on the cone, while a server was confused over whether there were cashews in the ice cream while talking to someone deathly allergic of cashews. 

Sometimes when we do rankings people will lecture Justin about trying to destroy small businesses or neighbourhoods or parks, such are people’s anxieties towards a list on the internet that doesn’t say “everything is equally awesome!” Rest assured that we mean no ill will, as Virtuous Pie makes good pizza, and with four locations (including one in Portland), they should continue to impress and survive for years to come. 

But this is the only place on our ranking we cannot recommend.

TIER 2: Mediocre

#26: Mario’s Gelati/Amato Gelato (5.29 points)

Mario’s is one of those places from your childhood that you remember as being fun and different because it was gelato instead of ice cream when that was a novelty, and there were so many flavours, and so surely it is worth a trip today, right? 

Eh. Not really. 

A giant supplier of gelato to restaurants across the region, the stuff at Mario’s HQ right outside Olympic Village, known as Amato Gelato, isn’t offensive. There’s a clinical passibility to it all, kind of artificial and overly sweet tasting, kind of icy from time to time, but overall, just fine enough. And with dozens of flavours ranging from the traditional to the fruit based, the rum raising to the black sesame, there’s definitely something for everyone. And the bars and tubs you can bring home are pleasant enough. 

But overall the competition passed them a long time ago, the price is on the higher end, and the actual store is cramped and sterile. There’s a reason you’ll frequently see a long line a block away at Earnest, and rarely see one here. 

#25: Say Hello Sweets (5.92 points)

Say Hello Sweets is a place we wanted to like more than our scores could allow for. 

A small nook in a Chinatown mall, Say Hello does plant-based ice cream cakes and sandwiches, which you can find at a variety of outlets in the Lower Mainland. 

We’ve had good experiences with them, but regrettably our reviews of the ice cream itself failed to match up. While competently made, the coconut and cashew base was a little too dominant for most of us, overwhelming the flavour of the ice cream. And the texture was somewhat odd, with a bit of a greasy finish. 

It was okay, affordable, and the ice cream sandwiches should be considered out if they’re in a shop you’re at. 

But we’d be hard pressed to recommend a visit for the ice cream alone. 

#24: Popina (6.13 points)

Soft Serve ice cream: it’s…there. 

A perfect soft serve cone on a summer day is the very thing of nostalgia (that may or may not have been partially invented by Margaret Thatcher?), a light but sweet concoction worth having whether at a local drive-in, a baseball game or a ferry (especially on a ferry). However, when you put them next to traditional ice cream or gelato, it suffers: too basic and one-note, only truly comparable if you lard it up with layered goodies, and only then if you prefer a less dense treat. 

Nonetheless, we include the well known soft serve haunts in Vancouver in this list, the least essential of which is Popina. 

A nice diversion for tourists on Granville Island, Popina started off with a bang in the market due to its location and reputation of its managers, but a steady increase in one-star reviews on Google in the past two years demonstrates that there may be a lack of attention placed on the establishments these days, which is something we found as well.

Popina’s gimmick is twofold: first, they say they’ve “developed a more natural” soft serve, and that seems to be somewhat true. Second, it’s presented with a little cream puff on the top and bottom, adding some enjoyable texture to the proceedings. 

But the toppings, though of fairly decent quality, are haphazardly put on, and the downside of the softer soft serve is that it was structurally unsound. 

Add in a higher price point than other soft serve businesses, and our conclusion is that it’s fun enough to try once, but that’s about it. 

#23: Perverted (6.14 points)

Fairing ever so slightly better on our soft serve exploration is Perverted, a hole in the wall at Robson and Thurlow that trades on naughty names and over the top toppings for its branding in lieu of the actual product it serves. 

That product is okay, if you accept (or enjoy) something that is top heavy with bells and whistles like cookies and candy cherries and marshmallows, graham crackers, and want to post something on Instagram later. 

Once you get through that first layer of toppings however, you’re left with regular soft serve that is somewhat structurally unsound (two of our cones nearly fell apart), with a taste that leans towards being frozen yogurt. 

Still, assuming the line isn’t too long, you can have a good time — especially if calling a flavour “Barbie’s F-Boy” is something that makes you laugh instead of roll your eyes.

TIER 3: Average

#22: La Casa Gelato (6.38 points)

Something can be big, and iconic, and nostalgic, and famous, and neat, while ultimately being thoroughly average.

And that thing is La Casa Gelato. 

For those living under a rock the last 30 years, La Casa Gelato is the bright pink Italian gelato small business next to the railway a couple blocks from Commercial Drive (now there’s an East Van bingo card for you), with an astounding 200+ flavours available at any given time. 

And it’s that sheer number and breadth that gives Casa Gelato its calling card; everything from Pear & Blue Cheese to Seaweed to Corn to dozens of variations on traditional chocolate and vanilla and sherbet and sorbet flavours. The scope of options, the circular design to the store, the very respectable seven buck price for a double, it all adds up to a very joyful experience, tied with two others for the top spot in that category. 

But for all the positive attributes of Casa Gelato, an objectively great final product is not one of them: icy, artificial and inconsistent sum up most of the flavours tried by our team, a focus on quantity over quality exemplified .

(While we imagine there are a few exceptions to this in their roster, we couldn’t particularly justify eating every single flavour, so our sample size will have to suffice) 

As a one-off experience, Casa Gelato is a delight, particularly with children or visitors out of town. As something consumed while trying every other high quality ice cream and gelato offering in the city, it suffers. 

And that’s okay. Casa Gelato will continue to be an institution for a long time to come. Go in knowing what it’s about, and you’ll have the most fun possible while eating icy creamy wasabi.

#21: D’oro Gelato e Caffè (6.63 points)

While Casa Gelato stands out for being very memorable in some respects and very mediocre in others, the two D’oro Gelato e Caffè locations in the West End stand out for utterly not standing out at all. 

Across our reviews, the words “fine”, “baseline” and “perfect spot for your dad” pepper the comments. The difference between the top score and the lowest was the smallest of any place we went to. It’s Perfectly Acceptable Gelato, a little on the thick and chunky side, with a decent collection of flavours and nothing that either wowed or upset us. 

We’ll make a note that their “three mini scoops for $6.45” is a darn good deal, that the locations have a hectic, lived-in charm, and that the collection of coffees, pastries and drinks provide plenty of options if people in your group covet more than just gelato. 

But given all the other choices for good ice cream in the city, or at least interesting experiences, D’oro mostly elicits a shrug from us.

#20: Yaletown Gelato (6.80 points)

What if Bella Gelateria was slightly worse and in the heart of Yaletown? 

Perhaps an uncharitable way of describing Yaletown Gelato, but we came away from this shop with a hearty shrug of “that was pleasant enough.”

Overall Yaletown veers towards the smoother end of the gelato spectrum, but while it gets points for pretty good mouthfeel it suffers on the flavour end of things. The chocolate we had was among the least chocolatey scoops we had during the excursion, while more adventurous amaretto cherry and key lime pie choices were fairly one-note. 

Yaletown Gelato has been in existence for quite a while now, a testament to its ability to bring in both local residents and tourists. Unless you’re in the neighbourhood though, there are better places to explore.

#19: La Dulceria (6.89 points)

The artist formerly known as Rooster’s Ice Cream Bar, this outlet just a couple blocks east of Broadway and Commercial has operated slightly under the radar over the years, and we caught them in the midst of an ownership and name transition during the summer. 

Overall, our experience was pleasant, with the lemon poppyseed remaining a standout. Other choices like pineapple, cookies and cream and bourbon peach were tasty — if someone thicker and less flavourful than one would want — but smooth and well executed. 

However, two of our rankers were compelled to try the chocolate cherry on the advice of the person behind the counter, and both of them found it to be among the worst experience of our entire “research” this summer: no tartness to the cherry, anaemic chocolate, and giant chunks of ice, tasting for all the world like the most mediocre big tub grocery store ice cream imaginable. 

If that chocolate cherry is the exception rather than the rule, Dulceria would be a few more spots up. As it is, our recommendation is a qualified one.

#18: Gusto (6.92 points)

Branding themselves as “A Taste of Italy” in the heart of Olympic Village, Gusto does a great many things, from paninis to pastas to espressos, and is generally busy due to both its location right beside the iconic giant birds and the quality of its product. 

Gusto leans towards traditional gelato flavours, from Stracciatella to Pistacchio to Nocciola hazelnut, and they tend to be intense tastes with generous portions. It’s one of the many gelato stores in Vancouver where the famed James Coleridge has spent some time, and you can tell — there’s real craft at Gusto, and it’s to be commended.   

But we did have some nitpicks, with some of the pieces of chocolate far too hard, a texture that melted a little too fast, and scooping skills that made it difficult to enjoy a double without things tipping over. 

And, this being a democratic exercise, some of our members were left with the sour taste of an establishment that ignored public health measures that literally every other gelato establishment was able to comply with, and scored their joy factor accordingly. 

If none of these qualifiers perturb you, Gusto will be an enjoyable time. Just don’t overthink the birds. 

#17: Soft Peaks (7.06 points)

With three locations in Metro Vancouver — one in Gastown, one in Burnaby and one in the McArthurGlen outlet mall — Soft Peaks benefits by not trying to overdo what is ultimately a fairly classic soft serve setup. 

It’s a thicker base than other soft serves in the region, simple but solid, with a good group of options to punch it up: rocky mountain coconut, a chocolate mudslide with TimTam flakes, a sweet and sour Yuzu marmalade, and more. 

The signature selection is probably their honeycomb, which is just sweet enough, with honey that manages to drizzle through the entire thing. Overall, everything is well done, if straight ahead, though they get a couple extra points for a salty cone.  

One person described it as “A McDonald’s sundae with fancier toppings and setup,” and while that may not make it to the upper echelons of our list, it’s still a good option if you’re in Gastown, and one of the better soft serves you can get in the city. 

#16: Yum Sweet Shop (7.20 points)

A fantasyland of candy and chocolate and ice cream options on Main Street, with cotton candy blue colours and tiles that evoke the fancy soda pop shop of generations ago, Yum Sweet Shop has a lot of joy going for it as soon as you step in the door.

And the ice cream…well, it depends what you get. They offer two choices, soft serve in a flavoured shell and more traditional ice cream, and we recommend you stick with the regular ice cream: the soft serve shell cracked quite easily for multiple people, the insides were too melty, and it became a frustratingly sticky experience from thereon in, enjoyable as the burned marshmallow cone in came with was. 

The ice cream is heavy on chunky childhood favourites like cookie dough and chocolate brownie, and does a fairly job of delivering, with a smooth if fatty texture.

Add in all the bells and whistles of the place, and the chance to pocket some penny candy on the way out, and Yum is a swell time for kids and adults alike. 

TIER 4: Good

#15: Gelato Express (7.67 points)

From here on in, every place can be recommended without qualifications or caveats, and we begin with one of the more unheralded gelato options downtown. 

Located across the street from the library, Gelato Express began operations several years ago with a liquid nitrogen gimmick, but have since pivoted to a more traditional operation. 

And while it sort of exists under the radar, with a very limited social media presence and little in the way of buzz, it’s very good stuff. It tends to do better with the fruit and vanilla-based options, popping with flavour and having a pretty smooth consistency. A few points were deducted for bits of ice here and there, but overall this was a top-10 ice cream choice in Vancouver when it came to pure quality. 

As such, the middle of the road ranking has more to do with all the other things that go into a fun ice cream experience: the selection is somewhat limited, the portions quite small for the price, the store itself lacking much decorations or charm.    

Which may be part of the reason you don’t hear much about it in conversations about the best gelato or ice cream in the city. That shouldn’t stop you from taking a trip over, however. 

#14: The Praguery (7.71 points)

The best of Vancouver’s soft serves, the Praguery has a gimmick wrapped in a food truck that is worth a taste if you can stomach the lines. 

It’s fairly generic soft serve, but instead of being put into a cone or overwhelmed with additional flavours up top, Praguery puts it into a chimney cake made on the spot, a cinnamon and sugar dusted bready cone inspired by trdelník, a traditional Czech street food (hence the name of the operation). 

Threaded inside the cones are various basic designs — lemon and strawberry and pistachio and caramel — that come together in a well-executed concept. While they cost more than other ice cream (most of them come around $12.5), it can definitely be shared by two people, or by one person willing to be in a sugar coma for several hours.    

Yes, soft serve only goes so far, especially when comparing other ice cream and gelatos one can get. But you won’t regret trying Praguery if you stumble across one of its trucks.

#13: Passione Gelato (7.78 points)

In the bottom of the gargantuan Parq Casino sits a small if decadent gelato place that has carved out a name for itself in relatively short time for a reason. 

Founded by Salvatore Boccarossa, who cut his teeth at Bella Gelateria, Passione is a top five place in the city for a smooth, consistent mouthfeel. At $8.5 for a double scoop, it’s on the pricier side, but not exorbiantely so. And there’s a nice mix of more traditional Italian choices, modern favourites like salted caramel, and stabs at more off the wall choices like Hojicha or Guatemala Banana.   

But for a place that clearly has lots of skill and resources, we were left a little muted by Passione — much like the flavours in the gelato itself. It definitely focuses on a subdued palette, and while in some that worked for people (such as the cherry or yuzu), sometimes the taste receded too much for our rankers to fully enjoy the experience (such as the mango or hazelnut). 

All of that, plus the very “order takeout and wander somewhere else” vibe of the storefront, left us a bit disappointed: there’s the potential of Passione to be one of the very best in the city, but it doesn’t quite reach those heights. 

That being said, it’s still darn good. Enter with proper expectations, and you won’t be disappointed. 

#12: Crema Ice Cream (8.00 points)

Of all the ice cream truck-only options in Vancouver, Crema is our favourite: a place low on options to select from, but high on fun and some of the quirkiest flavours you’ll see anywhere.

A pisco sour with lime? A berry kumquat sorbet? Something called “Choco Peanut Butter Pretzel Time”? These are adventurous choices that in lesser hands wouldn’t come together — but Crema makes it work. And at just $7 for a double, it’s a great deal to boot. 

The focus, per their website, is “mainly seasonal local items and ethically source ingredients from Asia and Latin America,” and there’s an impressive rotation of different options in the vein, along with well done vegan choices as well. 

Ironically, it’s the more basic selections of cookie monster and cereal fruit loops that disappoint a little bit, with things being a tad too chunky and inconsistent for our takes. 

That’s a relatively small quibble in the grand scheme of things though. Crema is tons of fun, and worth checking out. 

Part 2: the top 11 ice creams in Vancouver!

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  1. Mark

    So this article was pushed to me from Google news… Not sure if google knows we’re old school mates who haven’t talked in ten years or that I just love pretentious Vancouver ice cream! Creepy either way…PS, Roosters for the win!

  2. Ice cream tastes are subjective and personal. I would rate numerous of these much differently. For example a couple you rated higher are loaded with more unhealthy fats — to me a horrible mouth feel. Most soft serve is made with “edible oil” — that phrase should make one run away. Give me dairy not palm oil!!!!

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