Where to Savor Soft-Serve Ice Cream in Chicago

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A cup of coconut soft serve ice cream at Brasero.
Dairy-full or dairy-free, soft serve is a cool treat for Chicagoans of all ages.
Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

When scoops and pops aren’t cutting it

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Dairy-full or dairy-free, soft serve is a cool treat for Chicagoans of all ages.
| Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

Rich and creamy, decadent and dreamy, soft-serve ice cream is a heavenly invention that elicits joy in nearly everyone’s inner child. A textural marvel and a tasty way to cool off during Chicago’s all-too-short summer, a cup or cone of soft serve represents a core memory in the making. The city’s community of specialists is growing fast with dairy-free options and novel flavors cropping up all over town.

Check out the map below for Eater Chicago’s lineup of a dozen super-chill contenders. Some are seasonal, take a moment to confirm hours before getting too excited.

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This legendary soft serve stand in suburban Lincolnwood is, admittedly, outside the boundaries of Chicago proper but its many urban adherents attest that Dairy Star is a destination-worthy attraction. Originally a Dairy Queen, the stand struck out on its own nearly four decades ago and earned a stellar reputation for its lineup of three core flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. The toppings selection, however, contains multitudes — patrons can choose from a range of dips (chocolate, peanut brittle, cotton candy, and blue raspberry) and gild the lily with sprinkles, Oreo crumbs, syrups, and candies. Make a day of it and swing by the nearby Bunny Hutch for a round of mini-golf.

Japanese-style soft serve is becoming an increasingly competitive niche in Chicago so this Lincoln Park shop stands apart from the crowd by featuring taiyaki, a common street snack of sweet fish-shaped cakes. At Tayaki Chicago, customers can opt for a traditional filling of red bean paste or modern alternatives like Nutella, ube, or custard, and then top it all off with soft serve (vanilla, chocolate, matcha, and a rotating special).

Chicago’s first all-vegan ice cream shop, Vaca’s Creamery broke new ground in the city with its 2021 debut in Pulaski Park. Founded by alums of Sweet Ritual, a now-shuttered vegan ice cream hit in Austin, Texas, Vaca’s has won over vegans and dairy-eaters all over town with oat milk-based soft serve in flavors like vanilla, chocolate, cherry, and piña colada. Savor them sans accouterment or doctor them up with sauces (think miso caramel, strawberry, and chocolate shell) and vegan brownie bites and rainbow sprinkles. There’s a second outpost in Wicker Park.

Confectioner Elle Lei gives sweet-toothed Chicagoans plenty of reasons to visit her cheery shop in West Town, from gorgeous bonbons to daring raspberry dark chocolate bars. It’s possible to place orders online, but those who make an in-person appearance will be rewarded with decadent vegan soft serve. Flavors, which are subject to change, have included black sesame, pandan mochi, and spiced pumpkin.

Most discussions around chef John Manion (El Che Steakhouse) involve his expertise in live-fire cooking, so there’s something slightly poetic about the cool creaminess of the coconut soft serve at Brasero, his newish South American restaurant in West Town. It’s topped with toasted coconut and chocolate sauce.

A cup of soft serve ice cream with chocolate drizzle. Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’  Aba applies a Mediterranean lens to soft serve-style desserts with a veritable mountain of smooth, creamy frozen Greek yogurt. Try it with olive oil and sea salt or, for a slight upcharge, opt for a version with passion fruit and basil.

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Irish-born owner Sean McGuire has carved out a niche at Cone by weaving some cheer from his hometown in County Mayo into his indie ice cream shop with special sundaes like the Blarney Turtle and the Celtic Warrior. When it comes to soft serve, this spot keeps it charmingly simple with chocolate, vanilla, and swirl options.

There’s nothing wrong with a cup or cone of classic vanilla or chocolate, but soft serve fans hungry for variety can strike (edible) gold at Japanese-style mini-chain Kurimu, which specializes in colorful cups and cones and an ever-changing menu of flavors like uji matcha, pandan, white rabbit candy, and cherry blossom. Kurimu is mindful of style and substance, serving Instagram-friendly creations decorated with gold or silver leaves and hosting a rotation of collaborations with nostalgic brands like Peanuts and Care Bears, and iconic Japanese rabbit character Miffy. There’s also a Wicker Park location.

An ideal antidote to a sweaty day at Chinatown Plaza, Matcha En features a menagerie of Japanese-style desserts, including three flavors of soft serve (ube, matcha, and vanilla) with choose-your-own toppings like boba, red bean, ube powder, and brown sugar.

A summertime staple in Bridgeport since 2006, Sugar Shack is a neighborhood beacon for patrons of all ages who beat a path to the stand its massive funnel cake sundaes crowed with a helping of rich and creamy soft serve. Or, grab a simple cup or cone and choose from more than 30 topping options.

Across the board, fans of this Gage Park stalwart rave in equal measure about the sweetness of its soft serve-loaded cones and the friendliness of its owners. It’s a no-frills spot that plays all the hits, including dipped cones coated in peanuts.

A reborn relic of mid-century hospitality, Janson’s legacy dates back to the summer of 1960, and while the business has changed hands since then, new owners have worked to maintain its retro charm. And what better way to indulge in a romanticized throwback to yesteryear than with a cup of vanilla, chocolate, or swirled soft serve?

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This legendary soft serve stand in suburban Lincolnwood is, admittedly, outside the boundaries of Chicago proper but its many urban adherents attest that Dairy Star is a destination-worthy attraction. Originally a Dairy Queen, the stand struck out on its own nearly four decades ago and earned a stellar reputation for its lineup of three core flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. The toppings selection, however, contains multitudes — patrons can choose from a range of dips (chocolate, peanut brittle, cotton candy, and blue raspberry) and gild the lily with sprinkles, Oreo crumbs, syrups, and candies. Make a day of it and swing by the nearby Bunny Hutch for a round of mini-golf.

Japanese-style soft serve is becoming an increasingly competitive niche in Chicago so this Lincoln Park shop stands apart from the crowd by featuring taiyaki, a common street snack of sweet fish-shaped cakes. At Tayaki Chicago, customers can opt for a traditional filling of red bean paste or modern alternatives like Nutella, ube, or custard, and then top it all off with soft serve (vanilla, chocolate, matcha, and a rotating special).

Chicago’s first all-vegan ice cream shop, Vaca’s Creamery broke new ground in the city with its 2021 debut in Pulaski Park. Founded by alums of Sweet Ritual, a now-shuttered vegan ice cream hit in Austin, Texas, Vaca’s has won over vegans and dairy-eaters all over town with oat milk-based soft serve in flavors like vanilla, chocolate, cherry, and piña colada. Savor them sans accouterment or doctor them up with sauces (think miso caramel, strawberry, and chocolate shell) and vegan brownie bites and rainbow sprinkles. There’s a second outpost in Wicker Park.

Confectioner Elle Lei gives sweet-toothed Chicagoans plenty of reasons to visit her cheery shop in West Town, from gorgeous bonbons to daring raspberry dark chocolate bars. It’s possible to place orders online, but those who make an in-person appearance will be rewarded with decadent vegan soft serve. Flavors, which are subject to change, have included black sesame, pandan mochi, and spiced pumpkin.

Most discussions around chef John Manion (El Che Steakhouse) involve his expertise in live-fire cooking, so there’s something slightly poetic about the cool creaminess of the coconut soft serve at Brasero, his newish South American restaurant in West Town. It’s topped with toasted coconut and chocolate sauce.

A cup of soft serve ice cream with chocolate drizzle. Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’  Aba applies a Mediterranean lens to soft serve-style desserts with a veritable mountain of smooth, creamy frozen Greek yogurt. Try it with olive oil and sea salt or, for a slight upcharge, opt for a version with passion fruit and basil.

Irish-born owner Sean McGuire has carved out a niche at Cone by weaving some cheer from his hometown in County Mayo into his indie ice cream shop with special sundaes like the Blarney Turtle and the Celtic Warrior. When it comes to soft serve, this spot keeps it charmingly simple with chocolate, vanilla, and swirl options.

There’s nothing wrong with a cup or cone of classic vanilla or chocolate, but soft serve fans hungry for variety can strike (edible) gold at Japanese-style mini-chain Kurimu, which specializes in colorful cups and cones and an ever-changing menu of flavors like uji matcha, pandan, white rabbit candy, and cherry blossom. Kurimu is mindful of style and substance, serving Instagram-friendly creations decorated with gold or silver leaves and hosting a rotation of collaborations with nostalgic brands like Peanuts and Care Bears, and iconic Japanese rabbit character Miffy. There’s also a Wicker Park location.

An ideal antidote to a sweaty day at Chinatown Plaza, Matcha En features a menagerie of Japanese-style desserts, including three flavors of soft serve (ube, matcha, and vanilla) with choose-your-own toppings like boba, red bean, ube powder, and brown sugar.

A summertime staple in Bridgeport since 2006, Sugar Shack is a neighborhood beacon for patrons of all ages who beat a path to the stand its massive funnel cake sundaes crowed with a helping of rich and creamy soft serve. Or, grab a simple cup or cone and choose from more than 30 topping options.

Across the board, fans of this Gage Park stalwart rave in equal measure about the sweetness of its soft serve-loaded cones and the friendliness of its owners. It’s a no-frills spot that plays all the hits, including dipped cones coated in peanuts.

A reborn relic of mid-century hospitality, Janson’s legacy dates back to the summer of 1960, and while the business has changed hands since then, new owners have worked to maintain its retro charm. And what better way to indulge in a romanticized throwback to yesteryear than with a cup of vanilla, chocolate, or swirled soft serve?

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