Over this past summer, I observed a very disciplined and regular ice cream and gelato diet for the sake of journalism. I even continued the diet throughout my Canadian travels, and have now returned to Toronto to present you with the results of my findings. Before going further, let me start with two important notes:
It is hard to make ice cream and gelato taste terrible. But I only have room on this list for my personal favourites. If I have not named your favourite place, send me a message and I can try it out if I haven’t yet! However, many places may be great because they invoke a sense of childhood nostalgia, have a lot of bells and whistles, or are conveniently located in a specific neighbourhood. Feel free to continue to love them for those reasons.
Gelato and ice cream are not the same thing. There are many gelato purists out there who may call you out for lumping them together. While some may also be jerks, they would still be right. Thanks to my gelato chef friend Lorenzo, I’ve also picked up a few tasting tips over the years. Authentic gelato uses more milk and less cream than ice cream. This, combined with using less air, means that gelato is also creamier, denser, and smoother than traditional North American ice cream. You can also taste the flavours in gelato more clearly because it contains less butterfat content and is served a tiny bit warmer, which means that your tongue isn’t as coated (I know, gross right) and isn’t as numb. Science, baby.
Now that that’s over, here are my top 10 picks for ice cream and gelato in Toronto:
1. Futura Granita + Gelato
This shop is the feeling of stumbling into a cool clothing boutique after taking a random turn off a cobblestone road in a small European city. Owners Lois Kim and Carlo Diano were trained in Italy, and have dedicated themselves to the craft (including highlighting authentic Italian D.O.P. and I.G.P. ingredients!) of granita, gelato and sorbetto making. I’m happy that they have seasonal flavours like Niagara Peach and Sour Cherry Sour Cream, and very happy that they lean into Korean influences too. However, so long as they serve Gianduia (hazelnut and chocolate) Piemonte I.G.P., I’ll be tempted to keep ordering it.
You should go here if: You want to hone in on very specific, delicate flavours, set to a fashionable tune.
You should not go here if: You don’t like “shelling out” for fancy ingredients you don’t care about.
2. Bar Ape
Minimalist, clean, modern, local. That’s the spirit of Bar Ape, a tiny, cozy window shop located on St. Clair West and Rushton Rd. They only have a handful of offerings that all cost a flat $5 in cash. Maximize your trip by ordering gelato soft serve or a sundae (a twist is always nice) in person and bring a small cooler to take some gelato bars home for later (or to a happy crowd). They always have a vegan offering and the main flavour is usually based on seasonal Ontario fruit.
You should go here if: You love quality and hate decision fatigue.
You should not go here if: You “don’t do cash”, or you’re reading this in the middle of winter (they’re only open between May to October at the moment).
3. Death in Venice Gelato
I have known Kaya Ogruce for a long time, and his creativity in developing new, seemingly impossible gelato flavours never ceases to amaze me. I always tell people about the fact that he can make a Pad Thai gelato make sense, and that he has a real knack for highlighting local businesses and seasonal ingredients (think Blueberry & Sanagan’s Mustard). You can visit Kaya and his team at their permanent cafe location at 1418 Dundas Street West, but you can also find their pints in many outlets across the city.
You should go here if: You appreciate innovation in the context of authenticity and precision.
You should not go here if: You’re hoping to get soft serve or anything that resembles a classic vanilla cone.
4. Roselle Desserts
If you want to see what the power of customers supporting local small business looks like, come on over to King Street East to see what Roselle Desserts is all about. Owned and operated by husband and wife team Stephanie Duong and Bruce Lee, the main focus is on French cakes and pastries. Come summertime however, they’re lighting it up with delicious soft serve ice cream. The perennial favourite is the Earl Grey Soft Serve (add the pearls and cookies if you want a good Instagram moment), but I (along with many other people snaked through the adjacent parking lot) was living for their offerings during Strawberry Season.
You should go here if: You like being delighted by fun, modestly cute desserts.
You should not go here if: You were hoping for more flavour options (you’ll likely only get one choice of soft serve), or to score a weekday treat (they are currently only open Friday evenings and weekends).
5. Bang Bang Ice Cream (and Bakerbots Baking)
Bang Bang hits every important element of a successful ice cream operation. Excellent location in the heart of the Ossington Strip, exciting-yet-familiar flavours, and if that’s not enough, they’ll suck you in with the smell of waffle cones and egg bubble waffles being made to order. Hot tip: If you’re not too fussed about having all of the flavours at once, you should consider visiting their sister shop, Bakerbots Baking, located right beside Ossington Subway Station. The ice cream is the same, but it’s a cozier vibe and you get a selection of more baked goods. Either way, they make the tastiest giant ice cream cookie sandwiches around town (the Ginger Cookie/Cinnamon Ice Cream Combo was my “done with another law school exam” go-to).
You should go here if: You want to feel like a freakin’ dessert champion.
You should not go here if: You’re allergic to long lines.
6. Kekou Gelato
Kekou Gelato is about one of the last places of refuge I can count on while walking along Queen Street West (although they now have a second location on Yonge). They’ve taken a leap away from the Italian tradition of gelato and focus instead on fun, nostalgic Asian flavours like Almond Tofu (my favourite), Black Sesame and HK Milk Tea. They also make quality Bubble Tea if you’re in the mood for that instead. Before the Pandemic, they had a fun seating arrangement that university students flocked to. During the Pandemic, they’ve come up with a clean and precise kiosk ordering system that gets you what you need very efficiently.
You should go here if: You’re reminiscing about the flavours from your Asian childhood, or you’ve ever wanted to try Durian gelato.
You should not go here if: You get easily stressed out on Queen Street West, and/or in the presence of the unfamiliar.
7. Soma Chocolatemaker
Soma’s chocolate is so well-known and well-respected in Toronto, owners David Castellan and Cynthia Leung hardly even need to advertise that they have gelato. But they do, and it’s excellent. They have many flavours in the summer, but 9 times out of 10, I’m ordering myself a classic affogato made with a fresh shot of espresso and a giant scoop of vanilla. It’s the best place to hit up if you’re on King Street West or in the Distillery District. Don’t forget to pick up a chocolate creations to gift or keep for yourself.
You should go here if: You want to feel inspired by great design and attention to detail.
You should not go here if: You don’t like the smell of roasting cacao beans (also, who are you?) or you think taking food artistry to the next level is pretentious.
8. Ed’s Real Scoop
With locations in Roncesvalles, Mimico, Leslieville and the Beaches, Ed’s Real Scoop is a classic, no fuss, family favourite. While they do have gelato, frozen yoghurt and sorbet, this is the place I would suggest if you’re looking for real ice cream (as opposed to any of the others on the very gelato-heavy list I’ve created here). They’ve got a real sense of charm while being completely approachable and unpretentious.
You should go here if: You’re in the mood for a good, ol-fashioned generous scoop.
You should not go here if: You’re looking for a fancy or trendy experience.
9. Terroni Family of Restaurants (Sud Forno, Spaccio)
It’s pretty incredible to think how much Terroni has done in establishing an “Italy in Toronto” brand and presence. In fact, the specific taste of their bread, pastries and coffee is what many of us have come to identify as “the right taste” of what high quality, authentic Italian should be! Naturally, their gelato also tastes “right” to me. Made locally in Toronto, but sourced with ingredients direct from Italy, Spaccio and Sud Forno have easily become my two most frequented spots (even more than my office) during the Pandemic Era.
You should go here if: You want an authentic Italian experience with a strong Toronto signature.
You should not go here if: You get overwhelmed or confused by businesses and spaces that serve more than one purpose or have more than a few locations and names (I know, this is a bit of a reach).
I cheered alongside everyone else (especially our Yorkville residents) when Eataly announced they were opening in Toronto. Everything about this international Italian brand makes me smile, and they consistently produce and sell great Italian products, including gelato, across the board. The only reason they’re not higher on my list is because they also prioritize consistency across their locations around the world (as opposed to a few notable places on my list that make a point of highlighting local and seasonal). This should not however, be taken as a critique per se. In fact, it is even more impressive to think that they have been able to create such a signature “Eataly flavour” that you can look forward to no matter which time zone you are in.
You should go here if: You want a perfect little treat to break or end a chic day of shopping.
You should not go here if: You’re looking for local, seasonal, creative, rotating flavours.
So, did I miss any of your favourites? Let me know!