Gelato is ice cream’s silkier, denser Italian cousin. Anyone visiting Rome should pop into a gelateria every day, but with at least two on every block, it can be hard to know which ones are worth the stop. “Bad” gelato is a relative term, but some scoops fall short of others. Touristy shops will draw you in with their big, billowy mountains of gelato, but these usually contain more air, making them less creamy than they could be. Nothing is worse than getting excited about a big cone only to lick a subpar gelato, so hit these gelaterias to make sure you’re satisfied.
1. Gelateria del Teatro
With a branch location near the scenic Tiber River, Gelateria del Teatro offers gourmet varieties like honey rosemary, and lavender and white peach. Whoever thought to combine chocolate and wine with ice cream is a genius, and the flavor is just as decadent as it sounds. The cream puff selection, which had chocolaty puff pastry and cream mixed right in, was probably the single best gelato I’ve tasted in all of Rome. Plus, any basic biddy out there will appreciate the chocolate pumpkin. It’s not as sweet as a pumpkin spice lover might be used to, but it balances well with the chocolate. Plus, the occasional soft pumpkin pieces show that del Teatro uses fresh ingredients.
Top Pick: Cream Puff
2. Meno 14 Gelateria e.
Unlike the others listed, Meno 14 Gelateria e. is in a residential area. This shop doesn’t have the same crazy-long lines to indicate its popularity, but the quality of the gelato outshines the other touristy spots. One of its feature flavors is variegato Gianduja, which has hazlenut and candy bar pieces. Try the sbriciolata alle fragole for the gelato version of a tart-like Italian dessert with strawberries and a crumble topping.
Top pick: Amarena cherry
3. Gelateria Miami
Just a short walk from Meno 14, Gelateria Miami serves up some fierce competition. The selection isn’t huge, but Miami rotates its flavors pretty regularly. When I asked about one type, a worker disconcertingly translated its contents as “cheese,” but the hint of citrus in the base that I assume was ricotta made for a sweet, light and surprisingly delicious scoop. As an added bonus, you can get your gelato dipped — but not fully covered — in chocolate and peanuts, which makes for a nice topping that doesn’t overwhelm the creamy gelato. Skip the whipped cream though; it’s unsweetened and unnecessary.
Top pick: Cherry
4. Gelateria Frigidarium
Frigidarium is one of Rome’s most popular locations, and for good reason. As if its gelato wasn’t good enough already, this shop will dip your whole cone or dish into your choice of melted white or dark chocolate. Cracking the coating makes it a little hard to get to the silky gelato inside, but any chocoholic will find the mess worthwhile. The house “frigidarium” flavor is a decadent mix of caramel and chocolate, and includes a full-size chocolate cookie that makes a good spoon for breaking into that chocolate shell.
Top pick: Frigidarium
5. Gelateria Oldbridge
Get ready to wait in a long line, because this shop is right near the border of super-touristy Vatican City. Gelato is a pretty dense treat, so most gelaterias dole out small but oh-so-satisfying scoops. Oldbridge, on the other hand, serves up ginormous portions that would put even Cold Stone to shame. The sweet and refreshing mango flavor tastes like Rita’s decided to put its own mango ice into custard form. The shop also serves cookies and cream, an American classic that can be hard to find in Rome.
Top pick: Mango
6. Gelateria della Palma
With more than 150 flavors, Della Palma could induce a lot of anxiety in indecisive people. But once you get past the overwhelming array that winds around the whole establishment, there are some pretty scrumptious options. Chocolate-based gelatos, like Black Forest and Ferrero Rocher, are super rich and definitely not for the faint of heart. A lot of the other flavors are based on chocolate candies that are hard to find in the United States, such as Kinder Bueno, Lion Bars and Smarties, which are more like M&M’s than the American candy that tastes like artificially flavored chalk. One of Della Palma’s unique flavors, crema del cardinale, has a whipped cream-flavored base with nougat pearls, pistachio and meringue.
Top pick: Mars bar
Open since 1890, Giolitti is Rome’s oldest gelateria and is still wildly popular. There’s always a huge line, but the shop handles crowd control by having customers pay for their order before flocking to the gelato counter to pick flavors. Meanwhile, TV screens flash the available options, which are a good mix of sweet and fruity, and include uncommon flavors like prickly pear and white melon. But what really sets it apart from other shops are its boozy options, like Bailey’s Irish cream, champagne, Marsala custard and Disarrono amaretto.
Top pick: Pistachio
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