From a North Shore gem beloved by Al Capone to a South Side institution that serves a cone in every color of the rainbow, these classic ice cream parlors are perfect summertime stops
If your kids haven’t immediately squealed, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” as the melodic sounds of an ice cream truck blare in the distance, you may very well be overdue for a trip to an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. And, truly, the best way to cool off and celebrate the dog days of summer is by scooping up the littles and visiting local old-school ice cream shops that spoon out signature treats and a heap of nostalgia.
Partial to soft serve? Open to trying frozen custard? Willing to tolerate a display case filled with novelty candy while in line for your banana split? This list has all the most time-honored ice cream establishments, from a North Shore gem where Al Capone used to hang to a South Side institution that serves a cone in every color of the rainbow. Trust us, after you read through all of our picks, you’ll be screaming for ice cream, too.
It’s all about that soft-serve swirl at The Freeze, a bustling homage to Midwestern ice cream counters of yore. The shop looks like a well-worn shack, complete with an indoor queue and an outdoor ice cream window for to-go orders. While the menu spans the spectrum of savory and sweet foods alike, you come here for the ice cream most importantly. The ice cream roster is overwhelmingly enormous, but if you’re looking for that comfort food experience, classic is best. And by that, we mean a soft-serve swirl of chocolate and vanilla, piled high in a sugary cone.
2815 W. Armitage Ave.
When it comes to vintage ice cream charm, the end-all-be-all in Chicago is Margie’s. With its original location nestled along a bustling stretch of Western Avenue on the city’s northwest side, Margie’s reigns as queen of chilly comfort. The cramped parlor feels preserved in time, each squishy booth bedecked with a mini jukebox, walls dotted with the kind of kitschy paraphernalia you’d expect to find in your grandma’s attic. Oh, and they’ve got some seriously incredible sundaes. These multi-scoop behemoths, piled up in enormous seashell-shaped bowls, come in any variety of classic flavor imaginable. The cherry on top of the sundae, so to speak, is the massive carafe of gooey hot fudge served alongside each sundae. Drizzle it on as you please, or even just spoon the stuff right into your mouth. There’s no judgment at Margie’s.
1960 N. Western Ave.
1813 W Montrose Ave.
Jeni's Ice Cream
Something about Ohio, they know their ice cream. Jeni's is another Ohio transplant, having got its start in Ohio. The ambiance at Jeni’s is a treat in itself. Warm and welcoming inside, with a harvest of neutral colors. If you’re looking for typical kiddie flavors, like bubblegum and cookie dough, you won’t find them here. Founder Jeni Briton Bauer believes kids should be treated like independent thinkers with independent tastes and, as such, she makes eating ice cream an adventure. We're telling you, you can't go wrong with any flavor, but we're pretty partial to the brown butter almond brittle.
Various city locations, plus you can buy at many local grocery chains, including Mariano's, Whole Foods, and Target
Petersen’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream
For 100 years, Petersen’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream has been a staple of Oak Park. Founded by Danish immigrant Hans Petersen, the tried-and-true formula of decadent scoops and sundaes still feels as wholesome and comforting as it ever has. Recent new owners have spiffed the space up quite a bit, while still retaining that olden ice cream shoppe vibe with cute tables, tile floor and cheerful scoopers. Regarding the ice cream, this stuff is indulgent and rich, sure to satisfy the most ardent sweet tooth with its 18% butterfat content. Try the Mackinac Island fudge ice cream, the summery peach, or something even richer, like the nutty turtle.
Original Rainbow Cone
Serving up rainbow-colored goodness since 1926, Original Rainbow Cone is a bastion of old-school ice cream lore on Chicago’s far south side, the site of their original location. Look for the giant rainbow ice cream cone sign gilding the top of the building, then make your way into the comfy, kitschy confines to get your rainbow on. The signature dessert is a multi-layered cone striated with chocolate ice cream, strawberry ice cream, Palmer House ice cream (vanilla with cherries and walnuts), pistachio ice cream, and orange sherbet. If such a tall cone gives you vertigo, they also offer bowls and ice cream cakes.
Related: 26 Easy Popsicles to DIY This Summer
Homer’s Homemade Gourmet Ice Cream
Apparently, Al Capone had a sweet tooth. The legendary Chicago gangster allegedly made frequent stops at Homer’s Homemade Gourmet Ice Cream in Wilmette, where the ice cream parlor has been satisfying dessert cravings for locals, families, travelers (and troublemakers) for upwards of 70 years. With one of the largest ice cream menus in the northern suburbs and thick, decadent ice cream at that, it’s no wonder Homer’s has drawn crowds for generations. Flavors range from classics like butter pecan and mint chip to more unique varieties like green tea, prairie berry, and apple cinnamon. The dining room itself looks like a bygone cafeteria of sorts, filled with light colors, red chairs, and an open, airy space.
1237 Green Bay Rd.
Lickity Split Frozen Custard & Sweets
If your kids like a little more variety with their ice cream, take them to Lickity Split Frozen Custard & Sweets in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. While not ice cream necessarily, this frozen custard will give your kids something new to scream for this season. Made at a higher temperature than ice cream, with the addition of egg yolks for density and richness, frozen custard is famously softer, more buttery, and ultimately, more scream-worthy. Lickity Split, a charming cafe with a quaint general store motif, peddles frozen custard cones, sundaes, splits, and concretes, the signature dessert made by blending frozen custard with different toppings, like crushed cookies, fudge brownie bits, and sour cherries. There are also rows of cases filled with pastries, candies, and other snacks for the discerning sweet tooth in your family.
6056 N. Broadway St.
7000 N. Western Ave.
West Rogers Park
Graeter’s Ice Cream
One of the newest entrants to the local ice cream market comes by way of Ohio. The quintessence of Midwestern ice cream shoppe charm, the Graeter’s brand has been churning out quality ice cream for more than a century, so you know they’ve got the formula down. The family-run company opened its first scoop shop in 1984, and though they’ve grown nationally, they still use small-batch methods to ensure each and every ice cream is of the utmost in taste and texture. Its first Chicagoland locations feature all the flavors Midwesterners have come to know and love, made with locally sourced, wholesome ingredients. And lots of chocolate chips. Think black cherry chocolate chip, Buckeye blitz (peanut butter cookie dough and dark chocolate chips), toffee chocolate chip, mint chocolate chip, and lots more.
1347 Shermer Rd.
940 Green Bay Rd.
Scooter's Frozen Custard
The oldest custard shop in Chicago, Scooter’s is a Roscoe Village icon with major neighborhood cred. It was opened in 2003 by Mardi and Denny Moore as a place to enjoy ice cream's premium cousin (the custard's texture is denser and creamier) prepared daily using a method that eliminates most of the ice crystals found in your average scoop. Try a famous Concrete, a blend of custard and toppings so thick you can serve it upside down. Fan favorites include the Elvis (vanilla custard, Reese’s Peanut Butter cup and bananas) and the Strawberry concrete, a hand-churned mix of vanilla custard and whole strawberries.
1658 W. Belmont Ave.
—Matt Kirouac & Maria Chambers