For many years, gelato was the reigning king of frozen desserts in Vancouver, BC. (There are gelaterias in almost every neighbourhood.) But in the last few years, ice cream has made a resurgent come back. While there are some who prefer one or the other (for the difference between ice cream and gelato, see below), I say: bring on the frozen dessert renaissance!
There is so much fabulous ice cream and gelato in Vancouver that no "best of" list can cover it all. In this Guide, I highlight six shops that epitomize the Best Ice Cream & Gelato in Vancouver. These are the places to try before you try all the rest, shops that have been beloved by locals for years, and new, trending hot spots, too.
1. La Casa Gelato - Strathcona
A beloved local favourite for over 30 years, La Casa Gelato is home to a whopping 218 flavours. And the flavours are like nothing you've ever tasted before, ranging from the sublime (guava strawberry; chocolate Grand Marnier) to the sublimely wacky (pear gorgonzola blue cheese--yes, that's a real flavor, and yes, you can taste it for free).
This is a destination gelateria; unlike the other shops on this list, there's nothing to do in the immediate vicinity of La Casa Gelato other than eat gelato. It's in an industrial part of Vancouver, and hard to reach without a car. That said, it is absolutely worth a visit, for its uniqueness alone.
Rain or Shine Homemade Ice Cream opened in 2013 and quickly became a trendsetter in Vancouver gourmet ice cream, opening a second location within two years. Its first location on Kitsilano's W. 4th Avenue is walking distance from Granville Island; it's second location on Cambie Street is walking distance from the Canada Line's Broadway-City Hall Station.
Both locations serve delicious seasonal flavours--try the Malted Chocolate Honeycomb, if they have it--as well as signature treats like their Taco Tuesday ice cream tacos.
Every list of the best gelato in Vancouver includes Bella Gelateria, arguably the most famous gelateria in the city.
Bella Gelateria has attracted worldwide attention for its house-made, small batch gelato, which uses seasonal fruits and flavours from local farmers and growers. It's also the poshest gelateria on this list, and frequently has a line of waiting customers spilling out the door. (It's worth the wait.)
It wouldn't be a "best of Vancouver" list without a vegan option, even when it comes to ice cream. Not only does Earnest Ice Cream have at least two vegan options at any given time--like Vegan Raspberry--it has incredible, hand-made traditional ice cream in mouth-watering flavours like Whiskey Hazelnut and Tahitian Vanilla.
Another newcomer, Soft Peaks Ice Cream opened in early 2015 in historic Gastown and is already a neighbourhood favourite.
Soft Peaks' organic, soft-serve ice cream is made fresh daily; it's also ideal for those who don't like their ice cream too sweet. I recently had the Rocky Mountain (with roasted coconut and chocolate syrup; pictured on the right) and loved every bite!
When I lived near Commercial Drive, this was our family's go-to gelateria, and my goodness is it good! Specializing in hand-crafted and seasonal gelato, Gelateria Dolce Amore brings old-world, Italian style to its decadent creations, which include both gelato and sorbetto. (Commercial Drive was once Vancouver's "Little Italy" neighbourhood.)
Gelato vs. Ice Cream: What's the Difference?
What's the difference between gelato and ice cream? Jessica Harlan, About.com's Cooking Equipment Expert, explains that, while ice cream "has a minimum of 10 percent fat, gelato is made with a greater proportion of whole milk to cream, so it contains…five to seven percent fat," making it taste smoother and creamier. Gelato is also churned at a slower speed than ice cream, and is denser because less air is whipped into the mixture.