Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream, but in actuality the translation is pretty loose. While gelato has the high density — low amount of air, or “overrun” — of the best premium ice creams, it typically contains less butterfat and more sugar, though recipes vary widely. It’s harder than soft ice cream and frozen yoghurt, but softer than hard ice cream.
Definition and ingredients aside, here’s some of the finest crafted gelato I’ve had the honor of gaining weight from.
New York City
Arguably, the best gelato in New York comes from this revered chain that started in Turin, Italy, the slow-food capital of the world. The setting across from a pocket park in the West Village is charming (another location is near Central Park South), but it’s the flavors, courtesy of the finest international ingredients, that will knock you out. The lemons are from Sicily, the coffee beans are from Venezuela and the peaches, pears and apricots are grown on the owner’s Italian farm. There are no artificial ingredients, and Grom offers lots of flavors for people with dietary restrictions. The cioccolato fondente is brilliant and rich, but I’d advise chocolate lovers to try the unearthly cioccolato extranoir (which is actually a sorbet).
Laguna Beach, Calif.
This inventive, family-owned gelateria, located half a block from Main Beach, is the real deal, changing flavors weekly. The mascarpone and birthday cake gelatos are standouts, and there are gluten-fee options such as vanilla bean, strawberry balsamic and Ferrero Rocher (chocolate hazelnut).
Miami Beach, Fla.
Española Way is the least likely place you’d expect to find premium gelato. I mean, it’s a cute pedestrian lane and all, but it draws a touristy crowd that tends to do things on the cheap from the nearby youth hostel. When I passed by and saw that the gelato was carefully covered in a spinning cooler — like a roulette wheel with 12 flavors instead of numbers — I guessed that this was a serious place. I was right. The shop is Italian-owned, the batches are made fresh daily, and the gelato is satisfyingly dense and flavorful.
The rule of thumb in Italy is that the worst food is near the top attractions. (Don’t even think about eating near the Vatican.) So I was surprised, six years ago, when I saw people queuing up at Odeon in Piazza del Duomo, opposite the cathedral (and near a McDonald’s!). But the gelato is brilliant, some of the best I’ve tasted in Italy — and it’s scooped out from a refrigerated case that looks like a spaceship. On subsequent visits, both the quality of the pistachio and the long lines were still intact.
San Francisco Bay Area
At an establishment dating back to 1976, this gelato is some of the finest I’ve had in the States. I usually like my flavors pure, but as Gelato Classico is known for its mixed flavors, I’ve made the caramello chocolate crunch and the coppa mista (chocolate, pistachio, vanilla and almond) my go-tos. The flavors are explosive, the textures sublime, the experience ultra-decadent. Love the insider-y location on a North Beach side street (other locations in Mountain View and Palo Alto).