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Cold crush crew: You'll scream for this ice cream
Story by Kristy Totten and
Photography by Sabin Orr
Feeling the heat? Get a lick at some of the coldest, creamiest ice cream stops in town
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ... no, no, not frilly cupcakes or fro-yo. Sure, fad desserts have captivated our palates for the past few years, but it’s time to give it up for the sweet treat that’s dominated for centuries. (Seriously! Ice cream dates back to the Roman Empire, when Nero commanded his slaves to retrieve mountain snow to mix with fruit pulp and nectar.) But never mind that dark history. Summer is about indulgence. If you’ve exhausted the menus at your neighborhood chains, try these specialty shops for bold new flavors.
If you arrive at La Flor de Michoacan (3021 Charleston Blvd. #B, 366-1447) and ask yourself, “Am I in the right place?,” then you’re in the right place. The unassuming nevería (that’s español for “ice cream parlor”) is tucked away in a dusty, mostly deserted East Charleston shopping plaza, which solidifies the shop’s status as a true hidden gem. La Flor serves common flavors alongside intriguing homemade scoops, such as rose petal, pine nut, Mexican eggnog and elote cheesy corn, which sounds questionable but is decidedly delicious (think sweet corn and Parmesan, and suspend your disbelief). The ice creams are milky but not too rich, with subtle flavor and satisfying body and chew. Also available are ice pops in guava, cantaloupe, kiwi and mango or pineapple with chili. Tuna, for the record, isn’t what you might fear — it’s prickly pear — but it’s a good example of why you should brush up on your Spanish before visiting. Few of the clerks speak English, so you’ll need to meet them halfway.
If you’re craving something perfumey and light, try The Perfect Scoop & Boba Tea (5053 S. Fort Apache Road #104, 701-7888, perfectscooplv.com), which specializes in Asian fruit flavors. The house-made ice creams come in dairy and vegan versions, the latter of which are made with almond or coconut milk, giving them a delicate, icy texture. “People like vegan because they can eat more,” says Peter, the owner, gesturing toward a large cup. And you’ll want to eat as much as possible. Flavors include traditional Western favorites, as well as exotic flavors ranging from “been there” to “won’t go.” Green tea, lychee, mango and pineapple fall into familiar territory, with black sesame, red bean, ginger and taro somewhere in the middle. Hanging in the outfield is the feared/revered durian fruit, viewed by some as a merciless olfactory assault, and others as a delicacy. Some ice creams, such as lychee, offer mere hints of flavor, while others, like ginger, are captured perfectly — right down to the burn.
People fall into two camps when it comes to yuzu: love it or haven’t yet tried it. The fragrant Japanese citrus fruit is often zested and used as a condiment on high-end sushi, but I-Naba (3210 S. Decatur Blvd. #104, 220-6060, inabalasvegas.com) is taking the peppery cousin of the sour mandarin orange and teaching it to be sweet. The soba and udon noodle restaurant offers different ice creams daily. On the day I visited, I-Naba had yuzu, which has a clean, Greek yogurt-like texture and mild flavor, “coconuts,” as the servers endearingly call it, and the Japanese favorite kinako, which is made from roasted soybean flour and tastes like a malty, egg-based vanilla. Flavors vary by season and chef’s choice, but try sesame or yuzu when they’re available, and be converted.
Three things are guaranteed to happen on a visit to Luv-It Frozen Custard (505 E. Oakey Blvd., 384-6452, luvitfrozencustard.com): You’re going to arrive hungry, leave happy and sometime in between you’re going to be asked for spare change. But the shakedown is clearly worth it. Ask any downtowner where to go for a sweet frozen treat, and nine out of nine Las Vegas loyalists will send you to the little shack in the ’hood that draws late-night lines waiting for a fix of hyper-sweet, eggy swirl. Luv-It serves a slightly grainy recipe in chocolate and vanilla, as well as a flavor of the day ranging from rich (cheesecake and peanut butter) to nutty (banana nut and Swiss almond) to fruity (raspberry, peach and pineapple). And those are only a few of the offerings. Add to the dozens of flavors dozens of ways to have your custard, and you’ve got a brain freeze before you’ve even had a bite. Totally worth it, though, especially if you get to keep your change.
Also Asian and new to the scene is Kuma Snow Cream (3735 Spring Mountain Road #206, kumasnowcream.com), the latest project of Chef Jet Tila, who cooked at Wazuzu at Encore before relocating to L.A. Snow cream is what it sounds like — a franken-fusion of snow cone and ice cream that is milky in flavor but fluffy in texture. Servings are shaved into thin, cascading ribbons, which resemble a mound of Fruit by the Foot (plus some actual nutritional value). Kuma, which means “polar bear” in Japanese, will carry four to five staple flavors, including taro, green tea, black sesame and honeydew, plus one or two seasonal flavors. Like Pinkberry-esque fro-yo joints, the shop will have a toppings bar and, also like Pinkberry-esque fro-yo joints, the product is more or less guilt-free. With a pedigree like Tila’s, the updated Taiwanese dessert is sure to satisfy.
Good ol’ flavs
A tamer, themed alternative to Luv-It is Nielsen’s Frozen Custard (9595 S. Eastern Ave. #120, 451-4711, nielsensfrozencustard.net). Decorated with nostalgic American memorabilia, the parlor serves dense, impossibly smooth custard — chocolate and vanilla daily, plus a special flavor. (Lemon tastes a lot like meringue pie.) There’s a lot to look at while you eat — charming old garage signs, vintage milk bottles and antique ice cream scoops. Cones come in curious plastic sheaths called “The Buddy System,” a patented drip-catcher reminiscent of a post-surgery dog cone, but you’ll be so busy trying to count Coke logos, you won’t even notice.
Thrifty. Need I say more? No, but I’m going to. The iconic drug store brand began popping up around the valley last year and has continued to expand. On the west side, Sweet Addiction (5165 S. Fort Apache Road #160, 570-6993) is making its mark on the beloved California confection by using homemade cookies to make custom, tongue-burningly sweet sandwiches. The funky, modern store carries about two dozen Thrifty flavors, and 10 or so cookies such as snickerdoodle, white chocolate walnut and oatmeal raisin. A bestseller is mint chocolate-chip ice cream with chocolate brownie cookie. Extra cool points because they have a Galaga table game. The nostalgic Huntridge Drug Store (1122 E. Charleston Blvd., 382-7373) has also opened a Thrifty ice cream counter, as have the bare-bones Smarty’s gas station (3675 S. Durango Drive, 804-0555, thriftyslv.com), Kate’s Korner Ice Cream Parlor in the South Point hotel-casino (9777 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 796-7111)
Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro at the Venetian (3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 414-6200, bouchonbistrolv.com), carries four ice cream flavors and four sorbets on any given day, and each captures the essence of its main ingredient. Mint ice cream, for example, isn’t the chalky, pastel-green imposter you might remember from childhood. It’s unexpectedly aromatic, like biting into a sprig of mint. Ditto the dense mandarin orange sorbet, which balances sweet and tart and mimics orange zest to a Z. For a fluffier sorbet, try pineapple, which has an effervescent, champagne quality. Chocolate & Spice (7293 W. Sahara Ave., 527-7772, chocolateandspice.com) is a suburban gem with Strip roots. Former Aureole pastry chef Megan Romano’s shop offers two sorbets and two ice creams each day from a menu of 12 decadent flavors such as red velvet, Nutella and avocado tequila. The sorbets share a texture with Mexican fruit pops, and specialties such as gingerbread ice cream stand out for their toothiness. The holiday blend combines dried cranberries and spiced bread for a sweet-but-not-too-sweet dessert that could pass for carrot cake. If your favorite flavor isn’t available, request it for your next visit. The bakery and lunch spot has the feel of a spring wedding, and the ice creams alone are guaranteed to make you fall in summer love.
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