Best of: Helado

The nutshell difference between gelato and ice cream? Gelato has no air whipped into it, even top of the line premium ice creams have some, and lower quality ones have lots. Gelato does not generally contain cream, it uses whole milk, and contains more eggs. This results in a treat that is lower in fat (generally 3-6% versus ice cream’s 11-15%) but denser in texture, more intensity of flavor, and is served at a slightly warmer temperature to make it soft enough to scoop, yet, because of the egg versus cream thing, it doesn’t tend to drip all over as quickly. Here in Argentina, the frozen concoction helado falls somewhere between the two – it’s not quite either, it’s definitely its own thing – neither the richness nor texture of Italian gelato, yet not the light, airier, and generally more hard-frozen ice cream.

I’m happy to hear recommendations on places to try that you think might be interesting. The thoughts and ratings below are my personal opinion – I’m not going to change them just because you write to me to tell me you disagree. Rude, epithet filled e-mails telling me that I’m wrong don’t endear you to me, nor create an opening for conversation, and are simply going to be deleted without response (had to add that in after receiving several).

These opinions are subject to change with further experiences, especially where some place comes highly recommended but I haven’t been impressed – I’ll give it one or more extra shots. Some of these I’ve reviewed in more depth, if so, there’s a link to the review. Places that have multiple locations that seem consistent I’ve just listed as multiple locations. I’m going to grade these places based on sort of standard U.S. American school grades (no +/-s) – and the categories for each are:

  • Service (friendliness, helpfulness) – Beyond basic friendliness, I went out of my way to ask questions at each place, like for a description of one or two flavors, and if a sample wasn’t offered, asked for a sample taste.
  • Selection of Flavors – Basically an A to anyone with roughly 3 dozen or more, B between 2 and 3 dozen, and C if less than 2 dozen flavors – taking into account that 18 variations of dulce de leche, for me, don’t count as a wide selection…
  • Intensity of Flavors – Since intensity is part of what helado is all about, I tried various flavors looking for both the strength of the flavor and how true it was to what it should be.
  • Quality of Helado – This took into account a whole lot of things, and weighed slightly more in my mind in coming up with the Overall grade. Texture, temperature, presence or lack of ice crystals, and just general impression and mouthfeel.
  • Overall – Basically an average of the above four, with quality and intensity being slightly more important in my mind.

Arkakaó, Quintana 188 and Santa Fe 1257, Recoleta

Service: A
Selection: B
Intensity: A
Quality: A
Overall: A

Branch of the Italian gelateria Kakaothé (from Aosta), the second to open in Argentina (the first is in Rosario). True Italian style gelato, intense, richly flavored, creamy textured, dead-on. Service perhaps a touch overly attentive, but charming. Expensive as hell – not surprising given its location.

Cadore, Corrientes 1695, Centro

Service: A
Selection: A
Intensity: A
Quality: A
Overall: A

An excellent little Italian family owned gelato shop (and it is gelato) that’s been there for nearly 60 years, and prior to that was located in a small Italian town on the border with Austria. The flavors have great intensity, the texture of the gelato is excellent, and they’ve got a great selection of flavors, including a few that are unusual (apple strudel, chocolate with Cointreau and caramelized orange bits). Bitter chocolate being a personal favorite, I have to say that without tasting them side by side, this is a toss up for one of the two best spots for that flavor in town, the other being Procopio. Hand’s down, so far, they have the best coffee flavored gelato around – tastes like fresh brewed!

Chocorisimo, Anchorena 1693, Recoleta

Service: A
Selection: A
Intensity: B
Quality: B
Overall: B

Small chain of ice cream shops, I’ve only tried this one close to home. Service was great, some of the best anywhere in terms of friendliness and attitude. Pricing not bad. But, I just wasn’t wowed by the ice cream, the flavors a bit muted, the texture just lacking a certain creaminess, almost more like a norteamericano ice cream that has a lot of air whipped into it than the more typical gelato style here.

Chungo, Arias 2510, Saavedra/Nuñez; Av. Las Heras @ Rodriguez Peña, Recoleta

Service: B
Selection: A
Intensity: A
Quality: A
Overall: A

A dozen branches around the city, though, I’ve only tried two. Truly excellent quality. Service a bit scattered and harried at both locations, for no apparent reason, but at least friendly at the same time. A few interesting combinations that go outside the norm, and a decent overall selection, but not much out of the ordinary – favorite is the chocolate marroc, bittersweet chocolate with raisins and candied walnuts.

El Piave, Defensa 1000-block, San Telmo

Service: C
Selection: B
Intensity: C
Quality: B
Overall: C

More than one location, but my experience, twice, at this Plaza Dorrego branch was so unpleasant that I haven’t bothered to check out any others. The staff were rude and abrupt, the helado was passable at best, with flavors that were more hints than anything else.

Fiume, Entre Rios 601, San Cristobal

Service: B
Selection: B
Intensity: A
Quality: B
Overall: B

An average neighborhood type place, nothing wrong with it, nothing outstanding. The service was pleasant, but a bit indifferent, the selection was a bit limited, and although the flavors were true and reasonably intense, the quality of the helado was nothing special.

Frahel, multiple locations

Service: B
Selection: A
Intensity: A
Quality: B
Overall: B

The service at several of the branches I’ve tried is clearly aimed at the tourist market, and there’s a real sense of hurry up and choose – not unfriendly, but not particularly welcoming. The flavors are nicely intense, but the quality of the helado is just average, with occasional ice crystals scattered through various flavors.

Freddo, multiple locations

Service: A
Selection: A
Intensity: B
Quality: B
Overall: B

Freddo is the Baskin-Robbins of Buenos Aires, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s reliable and consistent, if nothing outstanding, and the staff are trained to be friendly. There’s always an interesting selection of flavors, and nearly always a few “experimental” or “new introduction” flavors. And I swear, more than once I’ve counted and there were exactly 31 flavors listed….

Freeport Heladería, 12 de Octubre & Añasco, Chacarita

Service: A
Selection: B
Intensity: A
Quality: A
Overall: A

Little corner joint in back of a freight yard, not easy to find. Definitely a place for the locals. Small selection, but some interesting ones, like fresh blueberry when in season, and a bitter chocolate that’s actually bitter – virtually no sugar. Worth seeking out for the intrepid helado fanatic.

Italia Helados, Triunvirato 4546, Villa Urquiza

Service: B
Selection: A
Intensity: A
Quality: B
Overall: B

This is a decent neighborhood kind of place. As such, it was easily noticeable that customers who were recognized by the staff received priority attention, including being asked their selection even when lined up behind others (including myself) who were waiting. There’s a nice selection of flavors, and they’re quite good, though I found the helado to be a bit too soft, and it wasn’t more than a few minutes before I had nothing other than helado soup in my cone.

Jauja, Cerviño 3901, Palermo

Service: A
Selection: A
Intensity: A
Quality: B
Overall: B

There are many out there who will disagree on this one, Jauja is the BA branch of El Bolsón, a beloved Patagonian helado maker. And in some ways, I hate to give them a “B” – the service is impeccable, and tastes of the myriad of both standard and offbeat flavors are de rigeur, without question; and the flavors and combinations are among the most creative I’ve seen outside of some of the legendary spots of Rome or Florence, not to mention a purity and intensity of flavor that is stunning. But… but, one after another of these icy treats has the same problem in common, they are sickly sweet, to the point of making our teeth hurt, and leaving a sugar coating on the inside of our palates that lasts far too long.

La Comarca, Juramento 2492, Belgrano

Service: A
Selection: B
Intensity: A
Quality: A
Overall: A

For a small neighborhood place this was quite impressive. The service was friendly, welcoming, and it is one of the few places I was offered sample tastes without having to ask for them. The selection is a little limited, but what’s available is excellent, both in flavor and quality.

Munchi's, Larrea 1541, Recoleta

Service: A
Selection: A
Intensity: C
Quality: B
Overall: B

Multi-location company, though I’ve only tried the one. While service is friendly, with questions cheerfully answered, and this is also one of only two places where I’ve been offered tastes of things without asking; the helado itself is pretty underflavored, and a bit on the soft-serve side.

Panna, Pueyrredón 1200, Recoleta

Service: A
Selection: C
Intensity: B
Quality: B
Overall: B

Little neighborhood shop that offers up a nice array, though heavily focused on dulce de leche and chocolate flavors. They’re friendly, and in a convenient spot when you’re out shopping in the ‘hood, but really just kind of average.

Persicco, Jeronimo Salguero 2591, Palermo

Service: C
Selection: A
Intensity: A
Quality: B
Overall: B

This place is often touted by people who claim to know as the best helado in the city. I’ve been twice, and found the service to be rude and unfriendly, questions about flavors resulted in rolling of the eyes, requests to sample a flavor or two were met by blank stares, followed by more eye rolling and then finally a miniscule taste, with attitude. While the flavors are among the most intense and true I’ve found of any helado shop, I was surprised given its reputation to find that in 3 out of 4 flavors tried, ice crystals were present throughout, resulting in a rather unpleasant texture.

Persicco, Juramento 2360, Belgrano

Service: A
Selection: A
Intensity: A
Quality: A
Overall: A

Amazing what the difference is in another branch, with good quality, friendly, and helpful service. This location was delightful, they have a beautiful outdoor patio looking over a neighborhood park. The quality of the ice cream was the same in terms of flavor and intensity, but texture was definitely what it should be. This location certainly is worthy of being included in the top echelons, even if not #1.

Procopio, Sanchez de Bustamante 2104, Palermo chico

Service: A
Selection: B
Intensity: A
Quality: B
Overall: A

Cute little neighborhood place on the corner of Juncal. Recommended to me by one of my loyal readers. While they have just over 30 flavors, a third of them are variations on chocolate and a quarter of them are basic cream with different nuts or fruits, so the selection is a bit more limited than it appears at first glance. One of the two best dark chocolate helados I’ve had – with bits of dark chocolate liberally sprinkled throughout; on the other hand, a barely interesting sambayon with way too much liquor. The helado quality itself is excellent, you might just have to experiment with flavors.

Quelay, Neuquén 1702, Caballito

Service: A
Selection: B
Intensity: B
Quality: B
Overall: B

Local neighborhood shop with a somewhat limited, though reasonably creative selection. Friendly, helpful service. I found the texture of the helado to be rather stiff and hard, much more like overly frozen ice cream – in fact, hard enough that the supplied plastic spoon shattered in three within a few bites.

R, San Juan 1883, Monserrat

Service: B
Selection: B
Intensity: B
Quality: B
Overall: B

Small neighborhood shop, relatively modern in style. On my one visit the two counter staff members working seemed more interested in chatting with each other and a visiting friend than helping customers, though once their attention was garnered they were friendly, if a bit scattered.

Rapa Nui, Arenales 2302, Recoleta

Service: C
Selection: B
Intensity: B
Quality: A
Overall: B

Part gelato shop, part chocolatier, there’s no question that chocolate is the forte here. So while there are actually thirty-some flavors on their menu, more than twenty of them are chocolate of one sort or another with some kind of addition. While I found the texture to be great, I though the flavors were a bit weak in the different ones that I tried. The staff also seemed completely disinterested in taking care of customers, much more so in chatting about their social lives.

Scannapieco, Av. Alvarez Thomas 10, Villa Crespo

Service: A
Selection: A
Intensity: A
Quality: A
Overall: A

I first encountered Scannapieco when they had a location in the center of town, at Córdoba and Armenia, and was borderline devastated when they closed up there in 2011 – saved only by having discovered Cadore in the meantime. Heading out to the new spot (opened in 2013) takes a bit more effort, but I do get that way now and again. I’m all over the chocolate holandés with bittersweet chocolate and burnt orange peel in combo with a second scoop of coffee gelato.

Tiberio, Bartolomé Mitre 1909, Centro

Service: B
Selection: A
Intensity: B
Quality: B
Overall: B

Small neighborhood shop, very modern and sleek. Staff more interested in chatting with each other than helping customers, though not unfriendly about being interrupted. I found the flavors to be a bit unbalanced – for example, the sambayon tasted very strongly of alcohol with nothing else creeping in.

Tufic, Guatemala 4597, Palermo

Service: A
Selection: A
Intensity: A
Quality: A
Overall: A

Sleek, shiny, spotlessly clean, modern spot on a fairly busy corner in Palermo. Service was friendly and attentive. The helado style is very close to traditional Italian gelato, very intense, dense and creamy.

Un Altra Volta, Santa Fé 1826/Callao & Pacheco de Melo, Recoleta

Service: A
Selection: A
Intensity: A
Quality: A
Overall: A

I’ve only tried their two locales in Barrio Norte, but been thoroughly happy with both. Service is friendly and helpful, the place is a little futuristic, but gleamingly clean. The flavors are intense, the texture is nigh on perfect. Favorite flavors here – chocolate volta (chocolate with hazelnut), caramel & peanuts, and sambayon granizado (rum based sabayon with dark chocolate chunks).

Vanshelato, Marcelo T. Alvear & Paraná, Recoleta

Service: B
Selection: A
Intensity: A
Quality: A
Overall A

I’ve tried one of the three locations in town a couple of times, plus sampled their wares at a food event, and found that the Italian style gelato is excellent, with great classic flavors – the amarena (cherry) is a favorite. But I’ve consistently found the service to be lacking – there are usually half a dozen people behind the counter and only one attending to customers while the others stand around chatting and text messaging. I’m guessing they may be the “delivery girls”, but it just looks bad, especially when there’s a line up of people waiting.

Vessa, San Juan 4400, Boedo

Service: B
Selection: B
Intensity: C
Quality: C
Overall: C

Little corner spot outside the La Plata stop on the E, apparently with a few other branches in other spots. Honestly, not much to recommend here – the ice cream was over-frozen and hard, and near flavorless. While the woman behind the counter was amiable it was clear that actually being asked to work was something above and beyond what she’d planned on for the day.

Via Maggiore, Callao 777, Balvanera

Service: B
Selection: A
Intensity: A
Quality: B
Overall: B

This is a nice, neighborhood location, with service that’s a little scattered, with the servers seeming mystified as to just exactly what they’re doing there. The flavors are intense, but the texture is just a bit too hard and cold for high quality helado – almost seeming closer to ice cream.

Via Nuova, Pueyreddón 1504, Barrio Norte

Service: B
Selection: B
Intensity: B
Quality: B
Overall: B

Small neighborhood shop along busy Avenida Pueyrredón, near to the Hospital Aleman. Nothing outstanding and nothing wrong with it, perfectly acceptable for an helado cone to lick while you meander.