When we first arrived in Rome, there were many family debates about which place served the BEST gelato. But this discussion soon ended for the same reason that discussions about politics and religion are often avoided in families: no one was about to change their mind, and each of us defended our opinions with fervor.

Over time—and many scoops of gelato– we came to appreciate a few realities about the limitations of designating any one gelato as the BEST.

First, everyone has slightly different tastes, and a particular style or preparation of gelato might appeal to one person more than another. Second, we have learned that some gelaterias are better at some flavors than others—maybe one really shines with fruit flavors whereas others hit their high mark on nut flavors.

So we decided that the search for a BEST gelato was misguided, or at least futile . . .especially with so many outstanding exemplars in this city. But we also had an urge to gather some data, because we are inevitably asked: “What is your favorite gelato place in Rome?”

We wanted to pseudo-systematically evaluate the gelaterias of Rome. And we even (briefly) considered covering a true range or sample of establishments. But life is short and our time here shorter. Therefore, we decided to work with a restricted range. We culled lists from our favorite food bloggers and established dining guides including (Tavole Romane, Katie Parla, NileGuide, Gambero Rosso, Italian Linguini – Tempo di gelato). From these sources and others, we generated a list of any gelateria that made it onto any reputable food writers’ list of favorites. So remember that any place on our list is going to be pretty darn good!

We established a rating scale from 0 to 10. But because we were tasting gelati that would ALL be excellent, we adjusted the scale accordingly. Thus, the lowest score of a “1” meant Good But Not Memorable, the midpoint was Really Good, a “7” was Amazing and by the time we got to a “10” our socks really needed to be knocked off.

We evaluated separately TASTE, VARIETY of FLAVORS OFFERED, SERVICE, and assigned an OVERALL score that did not need to be additive or an average of the other scores.

“Taste” is an obvious category. We decided to also rate “Variety” and “Service”, but not let them necessarily influence our final scores for a few reasons. First, we agreed that there are times when it is good to have lots of choices. Maybe you are with a group and people might like different flavors, maybe you aren’t sure what you are in the mood for, or maybe it is just fun to peruse the case and see the offerings. But we also knew of places that only offer a few flavors at a time, and what they offer is outstanding.

Service did end up being important to us and influenced our gelato experience. It started to factor into our decisions about which place we wanted to go to. For example, there is a really cute Sicilian gelateria right around the corner from our house. We must have made 30 visits there within a short period of time, always ordered from the same lady, and never once did she show a glimmer of recognition or even a smile. A very fancy and famous place down the road, San Crispino, has okay gelato, but the most unpleasant employees we have ever encountered in Italy.  At one point we decided to never give them our business again because it just wasn’t fun and that makes the gelato less enjoyable. In contrast, a visit to Il Gelato di Claudio Torcè has felt like visiting the home of a friend. Rocco behind the counter always offers a warm greeting to our visiting guests, offers us a little taste before we order a new flavor that he thinks might not be for everyone, and even gave the kids a free scoop when they reported perfect scores on their math or spelling tests. Really, shouldn’t gelato always be fun? But we kept these scores separate because there is no notion of “customer service” here, and Italians would take no notice of surly staff—they just go for the food.

Nell was our most consistent taster: after a year here and what must amount to literally hundreds of scoops of gelato, she has never ordered anything but chocolate (with one exception). She argues that her tastings do reflect variety, as she has had Intense Chocolate, Madagascar Chocolate, Chocolate Cinnamon, etc. But because everyone else tasted across the gustatory board, Nell at least was comparing oranges with oranges (or chocolate with chocolate) across establishments. So her scores probably have less noise.

And here are two related “insider tips.” Although it might sound strange, on hot days here, I longed for a scoop of sedano (celery) gelato from Il Gelato. It isn’t an after dinner dessert, but a late afternoon refreshment, and it is wonderful and indeed thoroughly refreshing. There is also an Il Gelato outpost a few blocks from the base of the Circo Massimo on Vialle Aventino—perfect for a sightseeing break. Second, although this post is limited to gelato, we often re-routed ourselves to ensure we passed by Gelateria Corona for granite (a cup full of icy fruit). Corona serves up what we all agree is the best granite in the city. (And we have our friend Monica to thank for clueing us in to this joy).

Here are our results. Happy licking.

–Seth

Seth’s Top Picks:

1. I Mannari

2. (tie) Il Gelato di Claudio Torce’

2. (tie) Gracchi

3. Neve de Latte

4. Tony

5. Gelateria del Pigneto

Nell’s Top Picks:

1. Il Gelato di Claudio Torce’

2. I Mannari

3. (tie) Tony

3. (tie) Gracchi

4. Alberto Pica

5. Duse

Jenny’s Top Picks:

1. Gracchi

2. I Mannari

3. Corona

4. Mondi

5. Alberto Pica

Eli’s Top Picks:

1. Il Gelato di Claudio Torce’

2. Gracchi

3. I Mannari

4. Tony

5. (tie) Mondi

5. (tie) Fata Morgana

The complete List (Alphabetical; note new locations always open, so check addresses):

Alberto Pica Campo di Fiori

This gelato has a very creamy and thick texture. We loved the pistachio, crème, chocolate, fragola, and limone. But the Rice & Cinnamon was the real star. . .like frozen rice pudding. This is a classic, old-fashioned place and an authentic experience- not fancy or modern, and a lot of fun.

Canova, Piazza del Popolo

Decent but not memorable. Though some in the family loved their chocolate, and a friend craved it throughout her pregnancy. Other flavors are okay. The strawberry is icy- refreshing but with bits of plain ice in it that we didn’t love. Don’t expect any warmth from the harried servers; the place is flooded with tourists.

Ciampini 
Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina 29

The mango and chocolate were not special. The pistachio was creamy  and pale, almost white and tasted fresh, as did the hazelnut. The most special flavor was frutta di bosco (mixed berry). Portion sizes were generous.

Duse- da Giovanni, via Eleonora Duse 1e (Parioli)

The dark chocolate was really dark- according to Nell it tasted like a cold bar of dark chocolate. What was really special here was the zabaglione  flavor—which locals came up to us to say we had to try. Spectacular. No tourists at this local place! One of the best, but off the beaten path.

Fata Morgana (Prati, Monti)

Great and charming location in Monti! But very small portions. . .the scoop is so small that we felt cheated. Given the fame of this place, we were surprised that some flavors were off: the cinnamon had pieces of bark that were so large they had to be spit out, the fennel/licorice was a bit too  strong and unpleasant, and the crème was just plain bland. Madagascar  chocolate got good reviews, as did black cherry. We had fond memories of this place from a few years ago, but feel that others have now surpassed it.

Fior di Luna, via della Lungaretta 96 (Trastevere)

A humble, no frills place, still frequented by locals despite being on a very  tourist-laden street. No cones. Crème catalane was low on flavor, chocolate was very good. White chocolate was tasty but not memorable. All organic and locally produced and better than others in this high-tourist, generally poor food area.

Gelateria Corona Campo de Fiori/Largo Argentina

Although known for their gelato, the granite at this place is truly outstanding! They have a range of flavors and all are savory and  refreshing. The gelato was excellent, but truly outstanding and special was the lemon/basil. The pear and cinnamon was also fabulous.

Gelateria Frigidarium Via del Governo Vecchio, 112 (Piazza Navona)

The “Fridgidarium” flavor is crème caramel with pieces of biscotti- and is very delicious, if not cloyingly sweet. This place gives you the option of having your scoop of gelato covered in dark or white chocolate after it has been placed in your cup or cone. The gelato is good, albeit a bit on the sweet side.

Gelateria dei Gracchi 
Via dei Gracchi 272 
(Prati)

Don’t leave Rome without going here. The freshness of the flavors and    ingredients is unparalleled. Especially good at fruit flavors- such as peach  in high summer (which made our heads spin) and the fragolini- little  strawberries—in early summer. The pistachio is amazing and the chocolate won rave reviews for its smoothness.

Gelateria del Teatro 
Via di San Simone 70 (Navona-ish)

Fun and unusual flavors such as sage & raspberry, white chocolate & basil. Winning flavor seemed to be Sicilian orange. Great location and fresh ingredients. Truly artisanal.

Gelateria Origini via del Gesu (Pantheon)

Delicious gelato, but nothing extraordinary. Unfriendly service and the  highest price tag of any of the places we visited lead me to conclude that it  is a tasty treat, but not worth going out of my way.

Giolitti, via degli Uffici del Vicario 40 (Pantheon)

You’ll have read about this place in all of the standard guide books- as    have the throngs of other non-locals elbowing their way to the counter    without having paid first (which means they have to elbow their way back out). Fruit and nut flavors are very good and there is tremendous variability in flavors. When I first started tasting gelato, I thought this place was amazing. . .now I realize that it is not exceptional. There is a lot   of hype. Nell did not love the chocolate and Eli threw away his stracciatella without finishing it.

GROM (Ubiquitous)

Eli was not impressed with the stracciatella and Nell found the chocolate sub-par. My vanilla was not great, and my sea salt with caramel was disappointing. One winner: Eli said the red grapefruit was very good.  Overall, a standard chain (they are all over the city) that is fine, but you can do a lot better.

I Caruso. Via Collina, 13-15 (Via Veneto-ish)

Absolutely delicious. Not charming and because the word is out, swarming with tourists. But so good that after finishing, we got back on the line to get  another shared cone of strawberry. Nell was disappointed with the extra dark chocolate, which she found not bitter or dark enough. But – unusual for her- she loved my strawberry, which she described as “like a fresh cold bowl of strawberries.” My peach was also outstanding. We never get whipped cream with our gelato, but did here. The zabaglione is fresh whipped rather than served from a machine. Also has the great advantage  of being around the corner from one of my favorite restos, Cantina Cantarni on Piazza Sallustio, which features the food of the Marche region.

I dolci di checco al Carettiere (Trastevere)

Eli was very disappointed in the stracciatella and gave it a zero; but he said the limone was excellent and gave it a 10. We all found our flavors to be very tasty, just not memorable. Still a decent spot to stop for a treat.

I Mannari, via di Grotta Perfetta 125 (EUR-ish)

Nirvana. The gelato here is made by Giuseppe, former gelato-maker at   Tony. He uses few ingredients in this gelato, basically fruit, sugar, and  water. The favors were so clear and fresh. The mango felt like a scoop of fresh mango, same with the clean, pure banana. The buffalo milk fior de   latte was simply outstanding. This was truly perfect gelato: simple, ideal, refreshing favor—and at bargain prices. The owner tells us that he isn’t in this to build a big business and make money because that would sacrifice  his gelato. I ended up dreaming about this place. It is, unfortunately, not so easy to reach for visitors. But for me, this is the best gelato in Rome.

Il Capriccio di Carla Piazzale Prenestino, 30/31 (Pigneto)

I was a bit annoyed because the person behind the counter wouldn’t offer any suggestions about which flavors were best on the day I visited-  insisting that all were excellent. I’d say all are okay. The fruit flavors were good, but ordinary. The lemon was bland and the melon almost too strong.  The real winner here was the pistachio- rich, smooth, with little bits of nuts- I could really taste the quality if the pistachios.

il Gelato di Claudio Torce’ 
Viale Aventino/ Monte D’Oro (Pza Popolo/Spanish Steps or Circus maximus)

This is our modal place. We visited here more than any other gelateria this year. At any given time, Il Gelato features about 80 different flavors. About  twenty of them are in the chocolate category and Nell says they are all winners. She especially likes chocolate/orange, intense chocolate, 100% cocoa chocolate, and chocolate cinnamon. The cinnamon and ginger is amazing. Eli   says that every flavor here is great. I became addicted to the ginger & cinnamon  (zenzero e canella), celery (sedano), salty peanut, and rice (riso) flavors. Jenny says that this place is one of the things she will miss most when we no longer live here.

* Il gelato di Procopio Piazza Re di Roma

A bustling place that has been around for generations serving locals, this is a fine gelato. There are some special flavors (like wild berry and crème or crème of mini strawberry) that have a little too much overrun; but the air does leave the flavors tasty and light. The regular fruit flavors are pleasant and  refreshing. A no-nonsense, good standby.

La Casa del Cremolato  (fruit frozen): Piazza Crati

Not really gelato, but it is so hard to find true cremolato these days. . .and this place really does it right! Eat at Restaurant Mora, grab a cremolato  here, and then go visit the Catacombs of Priscilla a few blocks away. . .what a perfect afternoon.

La Gelateria del Pigneto, via Pesaro, 13

Few places in Rome still make their gelato the way Fillipo does it here. I arrived in late morning before he had officially opened, and there he was, in the small back kitchen working alone and mixing a batch of pistachio by  hand. His entire kitchen is viewable by anyone standing in front of his cash register. I tried his special flavors, mango with chili and chocolate   with chile. They were both flavorful with a nice kick of heat. Then I went  back to try more traditional flavors. His pistachio was excellent, with nice crunch. But his real winner was the canella (cinnamon), which  was amazing. This is a cute little neighborhood place and a fine artisanal gelato.

Mondi, via Flaminia 468 (Ponte Milvio)

Hidden away near Ponte Milvio, a lovely place that also has great pastry   and chocolate. The coffee gelato was a hit as were the featured combos in their own case. I had “Insuperibile,” which was crème, lemon, strawberry, pistachio, and pieces of meringue. The featured combos all looked  incredible. And all the tasters gave this place rave reviews. In a future post, we’ll highlight three of our favorite restaurants in Rome that are very close to Mondi.

Neve Di Latte 
via Luigi Poletti 6

Just behind the MAXXI museum, this all-natural gelateria is a winner. All of the ingredients are organic and fair-trade, many from small farms. Pistachio  and chocolate were amazing, all of the flavors were rich and decadent. . .this  is pretty close to a perfect gelato, and it is extra fun knowing your purchase is supporting small, dedicated farmers and dairies! Worth the schelp- at the end   of the #2 tram.

Petrini, piazza dell’Alberone 16/A

Although this is not a flavor that appeals to me and I have never ordered it, all the locals were requesting banana and the tub kept emptying and getting replaced as I tried to fight my way to the counter. The banana was a pale off white—a good sign because, when you think about it, the inside of the fruit isn’t bright yellow and the gelato shouldn’t be either. So I tried it and it was magical. Smooth, light, and full of flavor. The fior de latte was also cool and refreshing.  Great gelateria with the crowds spilling onto the on the sidewalk to prove it.

Rivareno, via Magna Grecia 25 (San Giovanni)

Excellent, but tastes more like ice cream than gelato. The vanilla    Madagascar was very good. A special treat: the crème all’aceto Balsamico.   Rather than being blended in, the syrupy Modena balsamic vinegar was spooned   and spread across the top of the crème flavored gelato by the server. Still,   the place felt a bit corporate and low on charm. Not a destination type of   place, but worth trying if you are nearby.

San Crispino (Pantheon)

            This place is a lot of hype, mentioned in every guidebook for Rome. I find it all a little too precious, a lot too expensive, and way too unfriendly. Last  time I was there, I think the server was literally scowling at his customers  while his co-worker pretended not to understand any requests in English (is “chocolate” really that hard when you work in an ice cream shop?).  Whereas Neve di Latte proudly lists the locally procured ingredients in   each of their flavors, San Crispino says their ingredients are a big secret that can’t be shared. Whatever. I do think that their lemon gelato is terrific. But in the end, this place is no better and a bit worse than other places. I prefer to take my business and taste buds elsewhere. Plus, they consider  themselves too fancy to offer cones.

Sciascia Café: Via Fabio Massimo, 80/A. (Prati)

Like a throw-back to another time, this dark wood paneled, old-fashioned candy store exudes charm and nostalgia. . .as does the elderly owner who uses the most respectful forms of Italian (expect “arrividerla” instead of  “arriverderci’). I asked the barista which of the seven flavors available  was the best and he selected for me the pistachio and crème. Indeed,  they were smooth, creamy, flavorful, and simple. Great gelato and ambiance make it a charming place to cool off. I really loved my visit here  and can’t wait to go back. It was delicious, fun and comforting.

Tony (ai Colli Portuensi), largo Missiroli 15/16/17 (Monteverde Nuovo)

This place rocks, pulling among our highest scores on a day when we all arrived almost too hot and cranky to be pleased. It was an excellent value at E1.50 for THREE scoops of gelato. Our favorites were the crème, the   ricotta and cinnamon, the Sicilian pistachio, the stracciatella, and, of course, the chocolate. Judging from the long line of locals waiting to get in, and the pace at which all of the flavors were moving, I don’t think we could    have made a bad choice from the wide variety. The gelato was clean, smooth, and flavorful. A clear favorite and everything we could want in a gelato!

Vice 
Via Gregorio VII 385 (Vatican-ish)

A fancy up-scale place, but the gelato is tasty and some of the unusual  flavor combinations are wonderful. Hits included the Amalfi Lemon and I think   they had the best Madagascar Vanilla that I tasted. A new location is expected   to open in the Center soon.

Places We Couldn’t Get to This Year. . .maybe next time:

Al Settimo Gelo 
Via Vodice 21

Bar Cristiano, piazza Eschilo 84-85

Cremeria Aurelia, via Aurelia 389

Fassi, via Principe Eugenio 65/67

Gori – Piazza Menenio Agrippa, 8

Greed 
via Vestricio Spurinna 97/99

Il gelato di Gatto, via Luigi Capuana 30

Chatting with the chef/owner of I Mannari

I cajoled our friends Maria, Hisham, Laith and Aden into visiting I Mannari after dinner (okay, it wasn’t that hard to do). . .it was so close to their home and they had never been there!

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