It turns out you can improve on perfection. A scoop of creamy vanilla hits the spot on a sweltering summer day, but a new generation of chefs and gourmet-shop owners can't leave the iconic cone alone. From the tower of treats at ice-cream-sandwich master Coolhaus (pictured), including s'mores cookies bookending sea-salt caramel, to the range of flavors—whiskey and pecan, cucumber, Earl Gray sriracha, basil maple—ice cream reminds us that we'll always be kids at heart. Only now we can dig in whenever we want.
The Country's Best New Shops
Smitten Ice Cream
The secret to the texture of the sweet-toothed creations at this cozy, wood-paneled shop in Hayes Valley is a gadget invented by founder Robyn Sue Fisher that uses liquid nitrogen to produce smaller ice crystals.
Must-try: Mint chocolate chip, strawberry
Sprinkles Ice Cream
Famous for its cupcakes, this Beverly Hills–based company has expanded to include slow-churned scoops at a penny-tiled shop next door. Pair 21 flavors with eye-catching bonuses like red-velvet waffle cones and crumbled-cupcake toppings.
Must-try: Malted milk chocolate, strawberry
Little Baby's Ice Cream
Decorated with 3-D zigzags and loopy patterned walls, this East Kensington shop channels Pee-wee Herman weirdness with madcap combinations like grape-flavored Grape-Nuts sourced from Trickling Springs Creamery three hours away.
Must-try: Pizza, Earl Gray sriracha
L'Albero Dei Gelati
Park Slope gets an authentic, gourmet Italian gelateria this summer as the award-winning Lombardy-based shop opens a new outpost.
Must-try: Piedmont hazelnut, Bronte pistachio
Salt & Straw
This farm-to-cone joint—located in a sunny Nob Hill shop—uses small-batch ice cream from Eugene's Lochmead Dairy and flavorings from the likes of Laurelwood Brewery.
Must-try: Strawberry honey balsamic vinegar with cracked black pepper, freckled woodblock chocolate
The Skylight Shoppe at Maloney & Porcelli
New York City
A red-and-white-striped awning hangs over the soda fountain at this 1950s-style luncheonette, which serves floats and shakes built around classic desserts like banana cream pie.
Must-try: A sundae inspired by the 100 Grand bar
The Ice Cream Bar
This Art Deco dairy depot in Cole Valley resurrects the golden age of 1930s-era soda fountains with old-school floats and malts.
Must-try: Basil, maple cone pecan
The Scoop on the Latest Trends
Ice Cream Gets Sauced
Move over, rum raisin. New York's Saxon + Parole offers scoops of chocolate red wine, mint gum, and whiskey in a single bowl. L.A. Creamery makes pints with mezcal, moonshine, and Chimay beer.
Being Vegan Gets Easier
Even carnivores swear by the dairy-free gelato at NYC's Il Laboratorio del Gelato. The almond-, soy-, and coconut-milk creations at Sweet Ritual in Austin taste just as refreshing as the real thing.
Chefs Embrace Their Inner Child
Callie Speer at Swift's Attic and Blackbird's Dana Cree are creating whimsical ice-cream desserts—a popcorn-flavored scoop with house-made Cracker Jacks, burnt-honey flavors with sesame seeds—that have mass appeal.