I rank, you rank, we all rank for ice rank!
Now that we’ve got that groaner out of the way, let’s get down to the final part of our comprehensive ranking of every important local ice cream outlet in the City of Vancouver.
In the first part of this exercise, we went through the scoring system and explanation for this project, and we apologize in advance if our metrics are unfair and your favourite place isn’t included.
But now, it’s time to get to the important decision: what are the very best places for ice cream in Vancouver, and which is the best?
TIER 4: Good
#T-10: Uno and Bella Gelateria (8.34 points)
For those steeped in the history of Vancouver gelato drama, this may seem like a copout.
To recap for the rest of you: after being booted from a small-town council by a Supreme Court judge for deceit, James Coleridge did what any person would: moved to Italy to learn how to make Gelato, and subsequently started his own company in the heart of downtown Vancouver.
To say Bella Gelateria made a mark is an understatement: no other ice cream operation in Vancouver’s recent history made such an immediate impact, the bursting flavours and generous samples creating a buzz that began long lines on every summer day.
It would be fun to say one is better than the other, to compare and contrast and declare a victor. But in our research, 11 people rated Bella Gelateria and 11 people rated Uno.
And both ended with exactly 91.7 points.
That’s not to say there aren’t differences though: on total quality, Bella is still a step up on most of the city, with a range of flavours that give options for everyone, a wonderful smooth and creamy texture, not airy but not overly dense. At the same time, the cones are pedestrian, the prices are on the high side, and one can’t help but notice a certain cold, clinical quality to a visit.
Meanwhile, Uno’s waterfront locations at False Creek and the Convention Centre and brighter storefronts brought us more joy. While both places excelled on mouthfeel (with Bella ranking #1 and Uno #2), we found Uno’s denser selections (hazelnut, chocolate and salted caramel) were standouts, compared to Bella excelling at the lighter fruit-based choices.
And so here they sit, perfectly tied. The ice cream scene in Vancouver has developed in the decade since Bella came onto the scene, and other places have stepped up their game.
A trip to either Bella or Uno is still very much worth taking — even if we were unable to resolve the debate over which is better.
#9: Mister Artisan (8.50 points)
Mister Artisan Ice Cream could easily dismissed as a Yaletown Instagram gimmick appealing to people who like hype and something #innovative in lieu of actual quality if not for one problem: it’s actually quite tasty.
Doing the liquid nitrogen thing that was all the craze in 2016, Mister benefits in a couple of ways from sticking with the conceit. First, the ice cream is much smoother than most, ranking second highest in mouthfeel out of the non-gelato choices.
Second, it helps make their actual storefront a more whimsical place, where you can see the process in action with the big vats behind, along with them flaming up the signature creme brulee right in front of you.
Our praise comes with slight caveats: once you get past the novelty of the creme brulee, it’s some generic vanilla (though again, incredibly smooth). At eight bucks for a single scoop, it’s on the higher end of the price range. And while there’s a number of ice cream bars to enjoy, the number of choices available at any time is somewhat limited — though if the pineapple is available, we heartily recommend choosing that.
Still, the lines are warranted — and if you go to their Kitsilano location, a little smaller — and a good experience once you get through is almost all but assured.
TIER 3: Very good
#8: Earnest (8.62 points)
Yep, we’re doing this.
Earnest is the best ice cream in Vancouver for people who think living in East Van is a personality, a place for people who are stuck in 2016, a place for people who still bring their out of town friends to Parallel 49, a place for people who discovered salted caramel and never moved on, who equate a mason jar with #authenticity and measure value by proximity to a Whole Foods.
Earnest is also good ice cream. Very good, in fact, which is why it has made this tier: thick, consistent texture. Interesting, varied flavours. Sensibly put together storefronts, solid vegan options, a commitment to the community: these are all things you can say about Earnest without any caveats.
Yet it perplexes us when people argue that it’s the best ice cream in the city, because it’s a clear if small step below the top tier.
Part of that may be the personal preference of our rankers: we tended to prefer an ice cream that’s a little soft, and Earnest tends to be a little bit thicker. That works well with Milk Chocolate, Whisky Hazelnut, Salted Caramel and others, but on the high-water flavours the texture can trend a tad icy. Yes, the core selections are excellent, but the rotationals are rarely amazing (though shoutout to a summer lemon tart we all enjoyed!)
Overall, Earnest is incredibly consistent and competent, and with an outstanding brand it’s little wonder why they have the most outlets in Metro Vancouver (with four) and arguably the largest fan base in the city. It’s definitely part of our rotational list in the summer, and might be the safest pick if we’re showing an older family member interesting ice cream in the big city.
But we encourage those who think it’s the absolutely very best to consider exploring around just a little bit more.
#7: Sweet Barrel Creamery (8.73 points)
To wit! A smallish mostly-coffee shop on the west side of Vancouver, Sweet Barrel Creamery is definitely among the lesser known places to get ice cream in the city — and it may be the most underrated.
While Sweet Barrel’s interior gives the vibe of cozy comforts, their ice cream offerings are far from western traditional. Azuki Red Bean, Black Sesame and Coconut, Hojicha (roasted Japanese green tea) are all part of the rotation, and they nailed the texture and flavour of a shockingly high number of their swings for the fences. Our resident mango sorbet expert considered it easily his favourite, with good intensity and enough acidity. And if all that is too out there for you, an orange creamsicle and blueberry also hit the mark for us.
While some were a little bit split on the quality (the chocoreo — a cookies and cream concoction — and black sesame were divisive), people generally agreed the craftsmanship was there, with a smoothness that was to be commended.
Overall there is a limited number of choices at any time, and with many of them fully in the white/grey/beige/dark brown colour palette, it may not be the most appealing for your inner child, to say nothing of your actual child.
That shouldn’t stop a trip to Sweet Barrel though. It deserves to be known for more than just coffee.
#6: Innocent Ice Cream (8.93 points)
The website says “the home of the world’s best Gluten-Free Ice Cream Sandwiches,” and while we’re a fan of enthusiastic marketing, we can’t help but think that hasn’t been fact checked.
That being said, Innocent’s ice cream cookie sandwiches are worth the hype, with a great mix of exterior cookie textures to interior ice cream, with the ability to customize from their recommendations to your heart’s content.
But we’re here to judge the ice cream first and the accoutrements second, and…even then, Innocent is really good.
It’s not out of this world amazing with any of its selections, and nobody put it in their top three — the flavours don’t necessarily explode, and the cherry ice cream was a little “Tylenol-forward”, as one put it.
However, it was in everyone’s top ten, owing to that degree of customization, general consistency and a hearty mix of 16 selections. A sneaky trick is to get the “Flights of 3” ice cream sandwiches — at that size, the outside parts are relatively thin, but the ice cream servings inside are generous.
In short, if you’re looking for a nice post-baseball activity after a Nat nooner, or want to extend your Main Street wanderings a little longer, head to the end of the commercial strip at 33rd Avenue.
It isn’t the world’s best. But some things are good enough not to be fact checked.
#5: Dolce Amore (8.96 points)
Now 20 years, Dolce Amore has stood at the heart of Commercial Drive, bringing in loyal neighbours and weekend wanderers for Italian gelato who brave the lines and slightly cringy mafia branding for one very simple reason: the stuff is extremely good.
Light and fluffy with outstanding ingredients, Dolce has an array of traditional and more eclectic flavours that excited different scorers in different ways: their lemon meringue had just enough tart, their brown butter brownie was rich and provided chunky texture to proceedings, the cinnamon cereal was extremely unique…we could go on, but the sheer number of different things different people liked is a testament to their quality. Current offerings like Apple Pie A La Grippo and Cold Brew Moves Like Jäger show a focus on staying fresh while not necessarily being bound by tradition, in a way that was refreshing.
Or at least, that’s what most people thought, and keen observers might notice that there’s one other big gelato place in Vancouver still to come on our list. That’s because there were a couple of people who regarded Dolce as too fluffy and creamy to the point of being airy, one going so far as to call ice cream pretending to be gelato.
That critique got few arguments from the Dolce boosters, who more or less responded “it’s still plenty tasty”. And indeed it is — though one might admit that perhaps that airiness is the cause for the flavours not necessarily bursting with flavour in the same way as other shops.
These are small nitpicks though. Dolce may not be consistently thought of as “great”, but it’s plenty good.
HONOURABLE MENTION: BETA 5
There are plenty of places in this city we would define as “ice cream shops”, but there are plenty that don’t make our list: either because they’re outside Vancouver boundaries (yes, we hear you, Rocky Point and Duke’s fans), or they focus mainly on things other than ice cream (see: Sweet Something in Dunbar), or that the final concoction is close enough to ice cream without technically feeling anything like it (see: On YOGURT, a frozen rolled yogurt and gelato place that gave us an uncanny valley feeling with their not-quite-a-soft-serve, not-all-that-flavourful ice creamesque concoction)
But there is one place that didn’t make our list, but almost qualified and deserves a big shoutout for its quality.
Beta5 is a chocolate shop in the False Creek industrial flats that has a deserved reputation for ridiculously rich and delicious treats of all types, and in the summer they commonly bring out a few ice cream sandwich options.
Because you can’t get the ice cream by itself — only in sandwich form — we can’t technically rank it (because there are STANDARDS in justin’s silly little empires of lists), but if it was served by itself it would be around here: a big honking sugar bomb of an ice cream puck, quite blanced, with people loving both the raspberry earl grey and fudge brownie ice cream options.
Beta5’s ice cream sandwiches are here for a good time, not a long time, and so they’re already off the menu. Trust us when we say it’s worth the wait for next year.
TIER 2: Great
#4: Casereccio (9.33 points)
All hail the best gelato in Vancouver.
Unsurprisingly, it comes from James Coleridge: while the man shows a trend of not sticking around any organization for too long, it at least means plenty of places where his legacy looms large and tasty.
Coleridge teamed up with two Italian chefs at a small restaurant/grocery store just off Broadway and Vine in 2020, providing them with their gelato.
And it delivers on what gelato should be: not too fancy, not too sweet, but with perfect consistency that delighted nearly all of our rankers.
The gelato at Casereccio is a bit denser that of Bella or Uno or Dolce, but still plenty creamy. Options are somewhat limited and traditional, but there are fruit based (limone sorbetto) and modern (yes, salted caramel again) options for different pallets.
While everyone loved the carmelized fig, it was the tiramisu that got both the highest praise while also being the most divisive, with people finding addition of fluffy ladyfingers either joyful or excessive.
Our review for Casereccio isn’t as long as some of the others, but that’s owing to a no frills, straight ahead approach to both their store and their gelato: what you see is what you get, and if what you like is traditional gelato, you’ll have a great time.
#3: Elephant Garden Creamery (9.45 points)
The top three places for ice cream in Vancouver are all traditional ice cream-based businesses: that might be a reflection on the biases of our rankers, but after a summer of exploration, we believe it’s strongly due to the fact that gelato places in this city have mostly plateaued at this point in the Coleridge Era, while some ice cream businesses are working a bit harder and pushing the boundaries every so slightly higher.
Exhibit A: Elephant Garden.
Opened in late 2018 by UBC food scientist graduate Betsy Ng, Elephant built a big name for itself in spite of operating for the majority of its life during a pandemic.
And one could debate why, but to our mind a big reason is that it has a very specific point of view in their flavours and atmosphere. The regular rotation is small but top notch: a Malted Milk Choco, a Cookies and Cream dyed blue, a Vietnamese Coffee, a Hong Kong Milk Tea, and Mango Coconut Sticky Rice.
One can see there the mix of sugary pleasures and a heavy Asian influence fairly unique still to Vancouver ice cream shops. Many of their rotationals also embrace this, from the Strawberry Shortcake to the Hojicha Cheese Tea.
This wouldn’t matter much if the ice cream was mediocre. Elephant Garden pops though, particularly on the fruit choices, with the vegan mango coconut a top three flavour in the entire city for multiple members of our group. In addition, they do a good job of threading through chunky bits of fruit and bread into the ice cream without it being inconsistent. And the flights of four scoops for $13.75 is a wonderful way to split a bunch of different choices with a friend (or to fill yourself up for the day, if you’re so inclined).
There were some small criticisms: a mouthfeel that is merely average, the list of options is on the smaller end, and the non-fruit based ones are sometimes a little generic.
At the end of the day, this is a place with plenty of fans, monthly surprises worth checking out, and a top-notch addition to Vancouver’s ice cream scene.
Even if we’re now continually torn whether to go here or Dolce when we’re on The Drive.
TIER 1: Elite
#2: Rain or Shine (10.00 points)
After months of important, delicious research, it became clear to us that there were two ice cream places in Vancouver that were clearly in a league of their own, exciting us at a level and consistency that no other stores in the city were able to accomplish.
Rain Or Shine is the one that didn’t win — but the love it gets from its legions of fans is extremely well deserved.
Opened by Josie Fenton and Blair Casey in 2013, Rain or Shine gets compared to Earnest a lot because of the time frame they opened, the rate at which they grew to be the two biggest shops in the city, and their commitment to supporting the community.
At the same time, the argument over which is better is a fun one, in party, because of their different aesthetics: while Earnest offers hip minimalism, Rain or Shine offers ice cream tacos and a giant purple unicorn cow.
We love the energy of Rain or Shine, but more importantly, we love the ice cream: a bit more chunky and grainy than other ones in the city, but with a lot of texture and a flavour that holds all the way through. Their Honey Lavender, Blueberry Balsamic and London Fog have become standards and rightly so, but a constantly changing list of rotationals (at this moment: Snickerdoodle, Just Peach, Saffron Rose, Vegan Blueberry and Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch) add a lot to the experience — not all the one-offs hit, but they do so at a high enough ratio that it’s a place many of us check out regularly to see what’s new, which can’t be said for most places on this list.
Then there’s the milkshakes, and the unique “two half scoops for under $6” deal — among the best in the city — and then there’s the WAFFLE CONE, made fresh in house and giving the stores a wonderful smell, to say nothing of the taste after.
Rain or Shine is fantastic, and all but one of our rankers put it in their top five, a testament to how consistent it is. It ranked at the top of our “JOY” and “EXTRA” rubrics, the only place to top two categories.
If there’s a place that Rain or Shine suffers, it’s that chunky texture — sometimes a little too dense, sometimes a little too icy — not being quite elite.
That’s really the end of the criticism (although you could make a case that their interiors could use a little more zip), because really, Rain or Shine is outstanding, and will continue to be outstanding for many more years to come.
We know we’ll keep coming back, no matter the weather.
#1: La Glace (10.11 points)
The best ice cream in Vancouver is found in a Parisian-themed west side parlour that combines Wes Anderson visuals with Willy Wonka flavours.
Its name is La Glace, and over the last four months we have collectively fallen in love with it.
Started by Mark Tagulao in 2014 as a pop-up business and then opening a permanent store at 16th and Macdonald in 2017, La Glace wasn’t necessarily at the top our lists when we began this project, owing to our east side addresses and the store’s relative lack of distribution compared to Earnest or Rain or Shine.
And then we went. And virtually everyone was blown away.
La Glace finished as the top choice for 8 of 16 rankers, and to put that in comparison, no other place got more than 2 first place votes. Tagulao emphasizes a rich French style, heavy on the egg yolks and cream, giving it an incredibly smooth and decadent flavour that stood apart from anything else we tried. And the flavours — a mix of fun choices like Birthday Cake and Mango Chili along with traditionals like Mint Chocolate and Raspberry White Chocolate — all absolutely exploded with taste.
Consistent and well balanced, La Glace to most was in a league of its own, with an aesthetic just on the edge of excessive tweeness (tiny meringues on top of the scoops!) that was an experience in itself.
This is a beautiful ice cream shoppe for aristocratic tots who desire a goodie, making it a fun field trip for kids and adults alike, if not necessarily a hangout space in the same way as Earnest.
There were a couple people that gave it a relatively low score, but even they acknowledged the execution and craftsmanship at La Glace, only arguing that the above average sweetness and creaminess, along with fairly rudimentary cones, made them less likely to make repeat visits.
But when you add everything up, La Glace is the best, with a mix of quality, depth of flavours and an in-person experience that is not matched anywhere else in Vancouver.
At least, that’s our conclusion after a summer of expanding weightlines.
Your research and conclusions may be different — but we hope they’re as enjoyable as ours.