Best Ice Cream

When we set out to find the best ice cream in Greater Boston, we expected there might be a handful of places worthy of our list. Hundreds of cones, sundaes, frappes, and floats later (it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it), a whopping 25 made the cut.

Some intrigued us with their unusual settings (Ron’s Gourmet Ice Cream shares its space with a bowling alley), others for their giant portions, and still others for their gourmet flavors, like Christina’s Wild Turkey and walnut. With national chains like Cold Stone Creamery rolling into town (in some cases, mere storefronts away from local favorites), the ice cream business is really heating up. Read on for an alphabetical list of our (and your) favorites.

Exotic flavors: chunky chocolate pudding, cashew-caramel turtle. Price: small (10 ounces), $3.10; large (13 ounces), $3.50. The scoop: Judging from the number of people camped out with dripping desserts in the parking lot, very little of Bedford Farms’ ice cream actually makes it home. While this 60-year-old stand sells more than 50 gourmet flavors of high-butterfat ice cream, traditionalists can rest assured: There are also three kinds of vanilla. 18 North Rd., Bedford, 781-275-6501; 68 Thoreau St., Concord, 978-341-0000;

Exotic flavors: Appley Ever After (brown sugar ice cream with a ginger-caramel swirl and apples), Chocolate Therapy (chocolate with chocolate cookies and chocolate pudding). Price: small (4 ounces), $3.25; large (9 ounces), $4.25. The scoop: While we appreciate Ben & Jerry’s environmentally friendly business practices, we go ape over the creatively named flavors, including Chunky Monkey, Cherry Garcia, and Phish Food. How do we love thee, Ben (Cohen) and Jerry (Greenfield)? Let us count the calories. 174 Newbury St., Boston, 617-536-5456; 20 Park Plaza, Boston, 617-426-0890; 36 JFK St., Cambridge, 617-864-2828; other locations;

Exotic flavors: frozen pudding, ginger, coconut. Price: small (one big scoop), $3.25; large (three big scoops), $4.95. The scoop: On Sundays in the summer, Benson’s is more popular than church in this small town of 12,000. The faithful willingly brave rain, high winds, or chilling temperatures for a greater reward: huge portions of creamy ice cream packed with chunks of fresh fruit. It’s heaven on earth. 181 Washington St. (Rte. 133), Boxford, 978-352-2911.

Exotic flavors: Curse Reversed! (vanilla with chocolate-covered peanuts and caramel cups), Big Dig (vanilla with bits of brownie, chocolate chunks, and caramel swirls). Price: small (4 ounces), $2.65; large (7 ounces), $3.30. The scoop: For more than 50 years, Brigham’s has used the same recipe for its banana split: one scoop each of vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate ice cream; hot fudge; crushed pineapple; strawberry sauce; whipped cream; and a cherry. In fact, the only thing that’s changed over the years is the price — though at $5.95 it’s still one of the best deals in town. 109 High St., Boston, 617-338-7315; 268 Washington St., Wellesley, 781-235-9749; 1328 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington Heights, 781-648-9892; other locations;

Exotic flavors: blueberry, frozen pudding, chocolate-raspberry truffle. Price: small (6 ounces), $2.35; large (12 ounces), $3.65. The scoop: A footnote on the menu reads, “For everyone’s safety, ice cream cones are not served in the dining room.” Imagine: flying scoops of pistachio or peppermint — not to mention those sharp sugar cones. Risk-averse patrons can order at the walk-up window and then park themselves at a picnic table beside the eponymous brook. Look for the big sign on the roof that says “FREEZE.” 1652 High St. (Rte. 109), Westwood, 781-762-9860,

Exotic flavors: coconut-pineapple, ginger, Grape-nut custard. Price: small (6 ounces), $2.30; large (14 ounces), $4.19. The scoop: Little League teams, scruffy college kids, and graying townies pack the red vinyl booths for breakfast or burgers at this retro ice cream parlor, but they always save room for the real draw: more than three dozen flavors of ice cream, 20 different sundaes, frappes, floats, cakes, and even Belgian waffles topped with Cabot’s ultrasmooth ice cream. 743 Washington St., Newtonville, 617-964-9200,

Exotic flavors: adzuki bean, burnt sugar, Wild Turkey and walnut. Price: small (3 ounces), $2.70; large (12 ounces), $4.20. The scoop: If you visited Christina’s once a week for a year, you’d barely make a dent in the endless selection of out-of-the-ordinary flavors. Depending on the day of the week, the menu may include licorice, cinnamon-spiced Mexican chocolate, or an oddly appealing caramel-prune ice cream — all made on the premises with ingredients from Christina’s sister spice shop next door. 1255 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-492-7021.

Exotic flavors: toasted walnut–fudge, cake batter. Price: small (10 ounces), $3.50; large (15 ounces), $4. The scoop: First you smell the cows. It’s not unpleasant, mind you, just distinctive enough to alert your senses that you’re getting near. Crescent Ridge, which dates back to the late 1800s, sells more than 30 flavors made with milk from the aforementioned cows. For over-the-top indulgence, ask for an extra-thick frappe, with three scoops instead of two. 407 Bay Rd., Sharon, 800-660-2740,

Exotic flavors: Deep Purple Cow (black raspberry ice cream with blueberries and white and dark chocolate chips). Price: small (5 ounces), $3.15; large (12 ounces), $4.26. The scoop: Yeah, we know Emack & Bolio’s has a healthy agenda (it promotes hormone-free milk and uses no added dyes), but most of us are there for the variety of flavors, creamy soft-serve, and cozy, coffee shop atmosphere. 290 Newbury St., Boston, 617-536-7127; 736 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-5107; 2 Belgrade Ave., Roslindale, 617-323-3323; 1663 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-731-6256;

Exotic flavors: ginger; dulce de leche; fresh raspberry. Price: small (5 ounces), $2.75; large (7.5 ounces), $3.10. The scoop: This stripped-down, what-you-see-is-what-you-get ice cream stand opened almost 70 years ago, and its dairy continues to churn out fresh flavors. Even dogs love Erikson’s for its free doggy ice cream — a tiny scoop with a dog biscuit on top — and their owners love all the options: sherbet, frozen yogurt, milkshakes, freezes, and of course, the fantastic ice cream. 12 Great Rd. (Rte. 117), Maynard, 978-897-7622.

Exotic flavors: Hawaiian Delight (vanilla ice cream with mango, pineapple, and banana), Rocky Beach (butter-pecan with chocolate chips, salted peanuts, mini marshmallows) Price: small (6.5 ounces), $2.95; large (9.5 ounces), $4.35. The scoop: The “Farfar” (Danish for “grandfather”) in Farfar’s Danish Ice Cream Shop refers to owner Andra Carleton’s father, who worked at HP Hood and, back in the day, taught many a local ice cream shop owner how to make the stuff. “Danish” signifies its high butterfat content. Put the two together and you get “delicious.” 272 St. George St., Duxbury, 781-934-5152.

Exotic flavors: Earl Grey, Dutch orange–chocolate, chocolate pudding. Price: small (4 ounces), $2.55; large (7.5 ounces), $4.15. The scoop: Legend has it that owner Steve Herrell came up with the idea of mixing toppings into ice cream back in the 1970s, at Steve’s in Davis Square. Although Herrell sold Steve’s in 1978 (long story), the concept of “smoosh-ins” is alive and well at Herrell’s. Start with any flavor ice cream, then mix in a combination of ingredients chosen from 30 candies, nuts, and fruits. 15 Dunster St., Cambridge, 617-497-2179; 155 Brighton Ave., Allston, 617-782-9599;

Exotic flavors: El Diablo (chocolate ice cream with cayenne pepper and cinnamon), Turning Japanese (wasabi-flavored ice cream). Price: small (5 ounces), $3.39; large (11 ounces), $4.52. The scoop: As he went about experimenting with ingredients this past winter, J.P. Licks founder Vincent Petryk dubbed himself a “mad scientist.” The resulting flavors — El Diablo, Turning Japanese, Disco Inferno (a Tabasco-flavored ice cream), and virgin bloody mary sorbet — all blend sweet and spicy to create a piquant flavor Petryk hopes will appeal to hotheads everywhere. For the rest of us, J.P. Licks offers cooler flavors such as cucumber, sweet cream, and melon. 659 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-2020; 311 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-738-8252; 352 Newbury St., Boston, 617-236-1666; 46 Langley Rd., Newton Centre, 617-244-0666; 661 VFW Pkwy., Chestnut Hill, 617-325-1516; 4A College Ave., Somerville, 617-666-5079; 451 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, 781-648-4360;

Exotic flavor: frozen pudding. Price: small (14 ounces), $3.10; large (18 ounces), $3.45. The scoop: The generous scoops at this old-fashioned stand start at grapefruit size and only get bigger. Be sure to ask for an empty cup to catch the melt-off—’cause nothing spoils an après–ice cream round of mini golf (one of several diversions offered at the original Westford site) like sticky hands. 400 Littleton Rd., Westford, 978-486-3891; 343 Bedford Rd. (Rte. 225), Carlisle, 978-369-1910;

Exotic flavors: white pistachio, Mad Dog Mango (a spicy version of mango sorbet). Price: small (5.5 ounces), $3.20; large (12 ounces), $4.70. The scoop: While fans of this shop might think it a travesty to sully a scoop of Lizzy’s delectable homemade ice cream with chocolate or nuts, we say the banana split — topped with fluffy whipped cream, hot fudge, and three maraschino cherries — is to die for (and you just might, given the number of calories). Located on Waltham’s restaurant row, Lizzy’s is a worthy competitor to Boston’s finest. 367 Moody St., Waltham, 781-893-6677,

Exotic flavors: Thin Mint chocolate chip, coffee and doughnuts (coffee ice cream with pieces of doughnuts). Price: small (5 ounces), $2.50; large (10.5 ounces), $4. The scoop: The enthusiastic staff at Mad Maggie’s welcomes suggestions for flavor of the week (past faves include Guinness and orange–chocolate chip), but these are only footnotes to an already extensive menu that ranges from a silky vanilla cake batter to a rousing cappuccino espresso bean. 327 Main St., North Reading, 978-664-4623,

Exotic flavors: ginger, watermelon sherbet. Price: small (5 ounces), $2.40; large (8 ounces), $3.55. The scoop: The appreciative moos might seem to be coming from the happy customers until you notice the cows in the fields behind the Whitman location. Patrons, too, graze contentedly, in their case on scoops of orange-pineapple ice cream and scrumptious creations like fudgernutter sundaes. If it’s not fresh enough here, the next stop is the udder. 60 Bedford St. (Rte. 18), Whitman, 781-447-3889; 109 W. Grove St. (Rte. 28), Middleboro, 508-947-1322; other locations in Plymouth;

Exotic flavors: khulfee (cardamom, almond, and pistachio); gingersnap-molasses. Price: small (6 ounces), $3.41; large (14 ounces), $4.72. The scoop: This year owner Joe Rancatore (brother of Gus, who owns Toscanini’s) celebrates his 20th year in business. Stop by his colorful store, with its exposed brick, red oak tables, and giant stuffed parrot in the window, to celebrate with a sundae smothered in Joe’s velvety, homemade hot fudge. 283 Belmont St., Belmont, 617-489-5090; 1752 Massachusetts Ave., Lexington, 781-862-5090.

Exotic flavors: German chocolate cake, white chocolate–almond, green tea. Price: small (10 ounces), $2.55; large (15 ounces), $3.15. The scoop: The dairy farm the Richardson family started three centuries ago now features batting cages, a driving range, and some of the most popular ice cream around. Devotees cite the fresh milk, straight from the cows in the adjacent dairy barn; the ripe fruits that go into the peach, banana, and strawberry flavors; and the lavish add-ins, like the chocolate-covered raspberry truffles. 156 S. Main St. (Rte. 114), Middleton, 978-774-5450,

Exotic flavors: Grape-nut, Kahlúa. Price: small (4 ounces), $2.50; large (12 ounces), $4.25. The scoop: To understand the perfection of Ron’s brownie-nut ice cream, imagine dunking a brownie into a glass of ice-cold milk and then taking a bite. It’s that good. Our best advice: Block out the din of falling pins and screaming kids at this ice cream parlor/bowling alley so you can focus fully on the bowl in front of you. 1231 Hyde Park Ave., Hyde Park, 617-364-5274.

Exotic flavors: apple strudel, Grandfather’s Favorite (vanilla and coffee ice creams and orange sherbet swirled together). Price: small (5 ounces), $2.36; large (12 ounces), $3.26. The scoop: It’s not easy to find Shaw Farm, located as it is on the back roads of Dracut — but one taste of its ice cream and you’ll soon be committing the route to memory. The 40-some flavors are made daily using milk from the dairy farm across the street. You can pet a cow or sit on the vintage tractors, but for true ice-creamaholics, the raspberry–chocolate chip should be entertainment enough. 195 New Boston Rd., Dracut, 978-957-1971,

Exotic flavors: raspberry cheesecake. Price: small (8 ounces), $2.73; large (14 ounces), $3.41. The scoop: The big blue roadside stand is a favorite North Shore spot for good-sized portions of ice cream — chock-full of candy, fruit, and nuts — at reasonable prices. It’s also the place to gather and catch up on neighborhood gossip on summer nights. 67 Lynn Fells Pkwy., Saugus, 781-233-0009.

Exotic flavors: ginger, chocolate–peanut butter–cookie dough. Price: small (6 ounces), $2.95; large (9 ounces), $3.85. The scoop: Order at the window of this fourth-generation ice cream stand, then park yourself at wooden picnic tables overlooking the farm and woods beyond. There are all the traditional flavors you’d expect, but the spicy-sweet ginger ice cream alone makes Sunshine worth the trek. 41 Kendall Ave., Sherborn, 508-655-5022.

Exotic flavors: Vienna finger cookie, burnt caramel. Price: small (4 ounces), $3.25; large (6 ounces), $4.25. The scoop: Toscanini’s may not have the same breadth of offerings as fellow Cantabrigian Christina’s, but the 36 flavors it does have are exquisite. The rum-spiked bananas Foster, for example, and the khulfee (cardamom and pistachio) find inspiration in the Caribbean and India, respectively. Both are journeys worth taking. 899 Main St., Cambridge, 617-491-5877; 1310 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-9350;

Exotic flavors: Cow Trax (vanilla ice cream with hot fudge and peanut butter cups), Drew’s Dyno Crunch (blue vanilla ice cream with marshmallow and Oreos). Price: small (10 ounces), $2.95; large (16 ounces), $4.25. The scoop: Considered by one of its many fans as among “the greatest ice cream concepts in the free world,” White Farms’ Key lime ice cream has drawn many an ice cream lover to the North Shore. Here, chips mean chunks, and the kiddie size is as big as a large at other places. 326 High St. (Rte. 133), Ipswich, 978-356-2633.