The Eternal City boasts over 2,000 gelato shops, and Roman opinions can run dangerously hot over which gelateria makes the best version of the cool treat. But there’s a consensus emerging lately that this classic dessert deserves a bit of creative reinvention. So: Are you ready to taste chocolate- and tobacco-laced gelati? How about a savory gorgonzola flavor? Or perhaps a crisp celery? The word on Rome’s cobblestoned streets is that even the oddball flavors are absolutely delicious. Here’s where to find the best of the city’s emerging epicurean gelato.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do—and be very, very selective about your gelato. (It’s not uncommon to see Romans have heated arguments over their favorite gelaterias!) The list below is our ranking of Rome’s top gelato shops, and while it won’t steer you wrong, it’s best to know few ground rules for spotting “good” gelato in general. First, look for closed cabinet displays (they ensure better preservation) and take a pass if you see gelato presented in fluffy mounds overflowing from the tubs—emulsifiers and artificial thickeners are likely involved. As a rule of thumb, lurid colors indicate chemical additives. The coloring should, generally, be subtle. Flavors like pistachio should be a light to olive green, not lime, and banana should be off-white, not taxi cab yellow. Next, look to see if the ingredients are displayed or highlighted. A good gelateria will be transparent about exactly what’s in their creations. Finally, the gelato’s texture of should be creamy and velvety with no ice crystals, and should taste fresh, not flat.
No Roman gelato tour is complete without tasting the boundary-pushing flavors produced by gelato maestro Claudio Torcé. Since 2003, he’s been the city’s most notable gelato pioneer. He makes over 100 high-quality, all-natural gelatos and is particularly known for his unlikely savory flavors like gorgonzola as well as outside-the-norm hits like Sichuan pepper, celery, and rice. And as of just this March, after more than a decade crafting gelato, Torcé overhauled his entire formulation. He has replaced white sugar with fructose and is now using only “HD milk” (high-digestible milk) and cream. The idea being, he says, his gelato is now healthier and for everyone while the taste and creaminess is still uncompromised.
Be sure to try: The black sesame; it’s exceptional. But this is the place to experiment with flavors you won’t find elsewhere. So be sure to ask for a sample of, say, the habanero.
It should come as no surprise that the owner of another top Roman gelateria was trained by Claudio Torcè. Chef Marco Radicion of Otaleg (that’s “gelato” spelled backwards) focuses on similarly creative flavor profiles and gourmet ingredients. The Otaleg gelato laboratorio is out front, rather than hidden away in the back, so you can watch the magic happen right before your eyes. And if you want to get even deeper into the process, the shop offers gelato masterclasses too.
Be sure to try: Mascarpone with basil and lemon and mango chocolate chip are standouts—but each flavor pairing is carefully considered, so nothing you try will disappoint.
Chef Maria Agnese of Fatamorgana is another disciple of Claudio Torcé—and she may have even surpassed him for gourmet gelato creativity. Some of her original flavors include epicurean combos like chocolate with tobacco leaves, toasted almonds with cardamom, and black rice with rose flower buds. There’s no chemicals or additives in her ‘cream, and the flavor roster is constantly shifting: her creations are always seasonal and draw on quality produce, spices, and herbs.
Be sure to try: “Panacea,” a meld of ginseng, almond milk, and mint or “Kentucky,” dark chocolate and hints of tobacco.
San Lorenzo chef Stefano Ferrara is obsessed with using only top-notch ingredients, like high quality milk, organic eggs, and strictly seasonal ingredients (think lemons from the Amalfi Coast, Valhrona chocolate, and Noto almonds). As a result, his gelato absolutely explodes with flavor. What’s more, Ferrara’s craftsmanship results in a product that contains 25% less sugar than what’s normally used in ice cream, without sacrificing flavor.
Be sure to try: The sinfully-rich dark chocolate Cru Manjari with orange, or the unusual delight of pineapple with rosemary.
This is said to be Anthony Bourdain’s favorite gelateria, so it barely needs any other qualifiers. Ingredients are always fresh, and the seasonal flavors aren’t to be missed—for example, if you’re visiting during wintertime, persimmon is a must. There’s also plenty of unusual flavors you won’t find elsewhere, like dried fig, ricotta and pear, chestnut, and more. But the real star of the menu is founder Alberto Manassei’s pistachio gelato made with toasted nuts from Sicily. It’s (arguably!) the finest in the city.
Be sure to try: Anything seasonal, and the pistachio for sure.
I Caruso used to be a local secret. Now, it’s all-too-easy to find thanks to the long lines. But go anyway. You can watch the gelato being made on-site through a glass window as you wait. The classics are what to get here, like fragola, which tastes like a summer-ripe strawberry, or their well-loved pistachio. And when a server asks if you’d like whipped cream on top of your gelato, always say yes—it’s whipped fresh right there, too.
Be sure to try: Strawberry, pistachio, or any seasonal specialty with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.
Ginger and cinnamon. Fresh walnut and dried fig. Calabria liquorice. A feature in Eat, Pray, Love put this spot on the map, and despite the surge in popularity, San Crispino’s commitment to all-natural ingredients and high-quality gelato hasn’t changed a bit. Owners Pasquale, Giuseppe Alongi and Paola Nesci consider their customers to be connoisseurs, and as a result, the flavors they offer are a gourmand’s delight.
Be sure to try: The San Crispino ice cream with strawberry tree honey from Sardina, which the owners claim is the absolute best non-filtered natural bitter honey.
This little gelato shop in Travestere embraced organic, fair-trade ingredients way before it was trendy, and has been a leader in the Rome’s all-natural gelato movement. They’re still a standout in the city since they make gelato in small batches using traditional techniques—i.e., they even grind their pistachios by stone.
Be sure to try: Any flavor involving chocolate. Flor di Luna sources the highest-quality chocolate from both major and local suppliers, and you can taste the richness.
Right behind the Maxxi (the Zaha Hadid-designed art museum) is the Neve di Latte gelato shop, a favorite among in-the-know gelato fanatics since it opened in 2011. The secret to its success is driven by chef Simone Pietro Romano’s dedication to working with only the best raw ingredients: certified organic products, biodynamic milk from Upper Bavaria, organic eggs, and organic raw cane sugar. By the way, the gelateria’s name means “milk snow”–an apt description for its creamy gelato.
Be sure to try: The classics, like the stellar pistachio or chocolate.
There’s nothing to hide at Gelateria del Teatro, where you can watch the gelato being made right through a large picture window. Passionate owners Stefano and Silvia Marcotulli use only the finest Italian-sourced ingredients, as well as freshly delivered milk and filtered water for their gelato. They also care just as much about their cones as they do their ‘creams. And the location, nestled between the Piazza Novano and the Vatican, is picture-perfect.
Be sure to try: Rarified flavors like white peach with lavender or raspberry with sage.