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The temperature is rising into the 90s. Mosquitoes are attacking our legs. Space City Weather is throwing around the “H” word more often. There’s no looking back: Summer is here.
We don’t have to moan and groan … at least not all the time. Look, there’s ice cream—creamy, dreamy, sweet (sometimes savory?) ice cream. In honor of the season of giving (us sweaty clothing), here are our favorite ice cream shops in the Houston area.
If any ice cream in Houston can be classified as whimsical, it’s the treats from this Australian-born magic factory. With locations in Asia Town and the Heights, Aqua S specializes in sea salt ice cream colored in (what else) aqua blue. You can top your cone (charcoal, naturally) of soft-serve with fun toppings like toasted marshmallows, popcorn, and cotton candy.
Stretchy ice cream! Booza—ice cream in Arabic—has been a Palestinian delight for decades, and this family-run shop does it was well as anyone in America. Look for traditional flavors like lemon, rosewater, and ishta (sweet cream). Booza also does sorbet and gelato (almond with salted peanuts for the win), plus banana splits and coffee.
Don’t let the craziness get to your head at this roadside stop in Pasadena. Brain Freeze does some of Houston’s most insane ice cream creations, like a rich chocolate shake (in a Mason jar) topped with Oreos, full scoops of chocolate ice cream, and a Klondike bar. For color, and for the heck of it, the rim is “salted” with Fruity Pebbles. But that isn’t all—the menu offers just about every kooky idea under the sun. Just be mindful of melting.
Cloud 10 Creamery
Houston’s quintessential modern ice creamery offers both traditional flavors (dark chocolate, vanilla bean, mint chocolate chip) and innovative fare (cafe sua da, toasted rice, marzipan). It also has ice cream for good dogs, featuring peanut butter, banana, honey, and non-fat yogurt. (Can that be for humans, too?) Cloud 10’s popularity is so strong that it now has three locations—be sure to hit them all this summer.
Fat Cat Creamery
Recently adding a location at the Stomping Grounds development in Garden Oaks, Fat Cat is one of the city’s most popular spots to get ice cream. The shop’s secret is a small menu of big flavors like milk chocolate stout made with oatmeal stout and strawberry jam and buttermilk ice cream made with gin. Fun seasonal flavors come in and out, and nostalgic treats like push-up pops and ice cream sandwiches round out the experience.
Hank’s Ice Cream Parlor
Long live Hank’s, Houston’s king of homemade ice cream since 1985. Though Hank Wiggins himself passed away in 2011, his family has kept his legacy alive by continuing to carefully craft batches of banana pudding, banana strawberry, cookies ‘n’ cream, and that perennial Hank’s favorite, butter pecan.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Taking over the former Carter & Cooley Co. space, the national chain that started in Ohio has taken the Heights by storm with its creative and chef-like flavors. There’s salted peanut butter with chocolate flecks, brown butter almond cake, and gooey butter cake, along with frozen yogurt, like rainbow buttermilk, and dairy-free offerings, like cold brew with coconut cream.
Kwality Ice Cream
When you want traditional Indian ice cream known as kulfi, or maybe the cold drink known as falooda, there’s Kwality. At the chain’s two area locations (Mahatma Gandhi District, Sugar Land), get flavors like Alphonso king mango and the wondrous kulfi falooda, made with rose, malai and takmaria (watercress seeds). You can go cone or cup, or again, pop it in a falooda with ingredients like basil seeds and vermicelli.
Magnolia’s Ice Cream & More
In the East End, Magnolia’s holds it down with everything from raspas to Frito pies to rich sundaes like banana caramel. Homemade ice cream flavors, which we recommend over the basic fare like vanilla and chocolate, include mango, pineapple, and lemon lime (with chamoy, of course). For an extra-indulgent treat, try Magnolia’s supreme, which combines three scoops of homemade ice cream with fresh fruit.
Milk + Sugar
Montrose’s ice-cream hang naturally doesn’t do vanilla and chocolate. Find fun and cheekily named combinations like cereal milk base with Froot Loops (called Follow Your Nose) and cream cheese base with cinnamon sugar blondies (called Heart of Glass). Make sure your scoops go into a brown sugar waffle cone, too.
Red Circle Ice Cream
No ice cream shop in Houston asks you to taste the rainbow more than Red Circle. The small local chain has neon flavors like Elmo Crunch, Donkey Kong, and Green Goblin. It also gets adventurous with scoops like durian, crawfish, and Hot Cheetos. The big draws at Red Circle are the churros—just get your favorite and add a scoop of the ice cream of your choice. And no churro hits quite like the churro daddy, a circular creation that arcs around your ice cream scoop for an unmistakably Instagrammable feast.
With its calming pink and white hues and its old-school parlor feel, Sweet Bribery certainly looks like a throwback. But then you check out flavors like tiramisu, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and bourbon espresso, and you notice the boozy treats like the porter float made with a local dark beer … the creativity is pretty high here. We recommend Southern Grasshopper for a refreshing summery moment: mint chocolate chip ice cream, a crème de menthe brownie, hot fudge, and Andes mints.
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream
The new kid in town, in Rice Village, is one of the most popular ice cream makers in America. Van Leeuwen uses a whole bunch of eggs in its ice cream, which makes their offerings a little more velvety and rich than sweet. The result is seriously addictive stuff, from royal wedding cake with elderflower and lemon to hazelnut fudge cookie. A number of vegan ice creams, including some made with oat milk, are astoundingly delicious. For example, dig passion fruit layer cake.