While ice cream proves delectable year-round, the summer months are when we crave this frozen dessert the most. Plus, with National Ice Cream Day coming up on July 17, you have one more reason (as if another reason were needed) to indulge in heaping piles of cookies and cream, mint chocolate chip or Rocky Road. Get your favorite scoop topped with hot fudge, butterscotch or sprinkles, served in a waffle cone, sugar cone or pressed between two soft cookies, and laden with whipped cream and chopped nuts. The choices are endless, much like the list of flavors. Here are the ten best ice cream parlors in Denver and Boulder, in alphabetical order — with the winner of our 2016 Best Ice Cream/Gelato Shop award in the number-one slot.
10. Bonnie Brae Ice Cream
799 South University Boulevard
When a place has been around for 30 solid years, you can bet the owners know what they're doing. Such is the case with husband-and-wife teams Ken and Judy Simon and Cindy and Bob Pailet, who have run this South Denver shop since 1986. The quaint store proves just as classic as you could imagine: shaded benches outside, coolers filled with colorful treats, old-fashioned cones and milkshake makers lining the shelves, and a couple of well-placed tables and stools inside. Flavors, too, run toward the norm; you can't go wrong with a scoop of honey almond, caramel cashew or mint Oreo. Of course, if you're feeling a little wild, Bonnie Brae offers off-the-wall combinations such as red raspberry roll, bear claw and deep-dish apple pie, as well. One look at the epic menu and you'll understand why people have been making their way back for three decades.
9. Frozen Matter
530 East 19th Avenue
To say that this new Uptown ice cream shop caters to adults is an understatement. With ever-changing offerings such as the rich and savory rosemary caramel, the pleasing corn-based elote, and beery milk-chocolate chai stout, the flavors definitely play to a mature palate. But that doesn't mean the average ice cream eater won't find something familiar. For example, cool Corvus cold-brew coffee or strawberries and cream, which uses an exorbitant amount of real fruit. This tiny, elevated ice cream parlor came to the neighborhood in April, thanks to owners Gerry Kim and Josh Gertzen, who trained at the Penn State Berkey Creamery. These dairy nerds have even installed a pasteurizer and kitchen in their shop so that they can make all of their ice cream bases from scratch. Hence, the small-batch samplings prove as pure as the treats are creamy, making it an unequaled venue in the sea of kid-friendly sprinkle joints.
8. Heifer and the Hen
5290 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder
You may have to travel to Boulder to experience Ian Clark's new, sleek ice cream parlor, but believe us, it's worth it — and believe also that we're envious of Boulderites who can stop by for a scoop daily. For starters, Clark offers twenty rotating flavors of organic ice cream, which include mint-basil bitter chocolate, burnt honey and Vietnamese coffee. Clark also plays with booze in his treats, which you can see in the whiskey ginger and in one simply called Breakfast, an aptly named composition of whiskey and chocolate-covered espresso beans. Keep in mind that even though Clark just started this shop in the spring, he has been making frozen fun with the beers at his restaurant, Bru Handbuilt Ales and Eats, for much longer. Thank goodness the chef loved the art enough to branch out and open Heifer and the Hen next door to his restaurant.
7. High Point Creamery
211 South Holly Street
Husband-and-wife team Erika Thomas and Chad Stutz got in the business because of a shared love of ice cream and the desire to make it. Good thing too because the Hilltop neighborhood didn't offer much else in the way of ice cream parlors when the couple opened the sunny shop in 2014. This bright and airy space boasts about fifteen flavors, ranging from brown-butter pecan to Earl Grey with shortbread to Tin Cup whiskey with pistachio brittle. The mint chip proves palate-cleansing and refreshing on a hot day, and the blueberry-lemon provides a summery kick akin to stuffing one's face with just-picked berries. Also on the menu: shakes, floats and a French Victorian-era-inspired dessert called an ice cream bombe.
Keep reading for the rest of the list...
6. Inside Scoop Creamery
1535 Platte Street
5654 South Prince Street, Littleton
For some reason, every time we go to this little shop on Platte Street, it's fairly empty. This bodes well for those looking to skip the constant line of ice cream lovers at nearby Little Man, especially if said fans adore toffee. After all, one of the best flavors owners Andrew Myhre and Steve Longman make is the Minnesota salted toffee, a nod to their home state and the frozen version of Myhre's grandma's beloved dessert. Other options out of their twenty-flavor list prove well worth the visit as well, such as the bright and tart Key lime pie, honey lavender, and salted caramel. Top the last with hot fudge and you have the ultimate summer treat. Eat it in the cool venue, sit outside and watch the people walking by, or take your scoop to go and wander across the bridge toward downtown. For folks farther south, Inside Scoop's original shop in Littleton proves just as good.
5. Liks Ice Cream
2039 East 13th Avenue
Though many iconic businesses around Liks have left the Capitol Hill neighborhood, this charming ice cream parlor has remained steadfast. It's no wonder: Since 1976, the owners have served some of the best frozen treats in the city, and their solid menu boasts the temptations of banana fudge ripple, Key lime pie and Alpine chocolate almond, which has toasted almonds and white-chocolate pieces scattered in an uber-rich, dark-chocolate ice cream. Each handmade batch is only twelve gallons or less, meaning that no matter what you order, it's sure to be the freshest ice cream around. You can plop down inside and watch the scoopers work as you indulge in a heaping banana split, or join the sidewalk lingerers outside on the vast and shady porch.
4. Little Man Ice Cream
2620 16th Street
Of all the ice cream shops in the city, Little Man remains the most iconic. Not because the tasty goods top the competitors, but because of the 28-foot, 14,000-pound giant milk can that makes up this unique outdoor shop. You can see it from far away — and once you get closer, you'll also see the long line that snakes around the LoHi hot spot (or is that cold spot?). But don't be dissuaded: The ice cream whipped up and served by owner Paul Tamburello's happy crew is worth the wait. And for impatient kids, a slide around the back provides entertainment until they get their dessert. With fun flavors like vegan chocolate salted Oreo, Purple Cow and milk stout chip, ice cream lovers will never be bored by the selection.
3. Magill's World of Ice Cream
8016 West Jewell Avenue
If you're craving an old-school ice cream joint, head to Lakewood and check out this 35-year-old shop. Magill's serve dozens of classic creations such as mocha almond fudge, coffee and pistachio nut, as well as some strangely named concoctions you might have to quiz the young scooper about: think Superman, Blue Moon and Slam Dunk. In fact, there are eighty rotating flavors to choose from. As a bonus, if you decide to eat your treats inside at one of the blue or red booths, you can play Connect Four while you lick away.
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2. Sweet Action Ice Cream
Is it the commitment to using local dairy and Colorado's finest ingredients that make Sweet Action's ice cream so good? Maybe the thoughtful and harmonious flavor combinations that have had the shop's treats lauded all over the country since Sweet Action opened in 2009? Turns out it's both, and you can taste the quality of owners Samantha Kopicko and Chia Basinger's frozen desserts with each bite. Choose from more traditional scoops like toasted coconut and milk chocolate, or go the devious route and order elderflower, sweet-potato curry or the oddly addictive honey jalapeño pickle. No matter your path, you may find your mind wandering as it fantasizes about what you might order on the next visit.
1. Amore Gelato
535 16th Street
Technically, gelato isn't exactly ice cream, but the two are kissing cousins, and this glorious shop proved good enough to garner the Best Ice Cream/Gelato Shop for 2016. Since 2010, this funky, gold-accented store on the 16th Street Mall has been dishing out sweet treats — a real boon for an area saturated with tourists, cars and businessmen. Fans of traditional Italian gelato will be please to find that the Denver-based version tastes as good as the European stuff and come in all sorts of fun flavors, including cherry cola, German chocolate cake and mascarpone caramelized pear. As for the difference between ice cream and gelato: The latter has about a third of the fat content and calories, which means you can try all of the flavors semi-guilt free.