Gelato is having its moment in San Diego


When the quirky An’s Dry Cleaning gelateria opened June 1 in North Park, it joined a small but steadily growing community of shops devoted to the Italian-style ice cream.

Gelato, with roots in 16th century Florence, is made with milk, rather than cream, so it’s lower in fat and calories than ice cream. But because it’s made fresh in small batches, is densely structured without added air and served at a less-icy temperature than its American cousin, it’s creamier in texture and more intensely flavored.

Gelato arrived in San Diego in the mid-1980s and has built a small but devoted following ever since. Here’s the story behind some of San Diego’s newest and best gelato shops, listed in alphabetical order.\

An’s Dry Cleaning, North Park

San Diego entrepreneur Kris Warren, 34, was looking to start a business with some childhood buddies from Redding when a friend visiting from Spain suggested he consider gelato.

“I wanted something fun, and what’s more fun than gelato,” said Warren, who launched An’s with partners Jimmy Blalock, Travis Bailey and gelato chef David Aguilera.

The shop is memorably named for the shuttered dry cleaners/tailor shop it replaced, and all of the branding by designer Keenan Hartsten plays on that theme. The stand-up tables are ironing boards, the decor looks a 1960s vintage “Martinizing” shop, and all of the store’s all-natural gelatos and sorbettos (which are fruit-based, rather than dairy) are named after fabrics. There’s Gabardine (banana and dark chocolate), Canvas (olive oil and rosemary), Felt (ricotta fig and balsamic vinegar) and many more.

The emphasis at An’s is on innovation, with seven new flavors every week, plus an extra six or seven secret flavors in development. Because its flavor names are cryptic, customers are strongly encouraged to take a free full-menu tasting session with tiny metal spoons on every visit.

Everything is mixed from scratch in-house with local ingredients and Warren is developing partnerships with local businesses, like Paru Tea Bar, which has collaborated on several Asian-inspired flavors this month.

Warren said business has been so good, his team is making gelato around the clock so the product is always fresh daily.

3017 Adams Ave., San Diego. (619) 450-6166.

Bobboi Natural Gelato, La Jolla

Most San Diego gelato fans call 4-1/2-year-old Bobboi the king of local gelaterias, thanks to the authenticity and quality of the ingredients in its all-natural gelato. Owner Andrea Racca and gelato chef Monica Maccioni (who are married) base their daily flavors on whatever’s in season. This week it’s fresh brown figs and keitt mangoes.

Ninety percent of its all-organic ingredients, including California-grown pistachios, are locally grown. All of its gelatos and sorbettos are made fresh in-house daily from Maccioni’s recipes.

The restaurant serves 18 varieties of Italian-style gelato and sorbetto daily, with one or two new flavors added every week.

There are seven vegan options, including a dark chocolate sorbet made with agave syrup and a pistachio option. There are unique mix-ups like Mediterraneo (hazelnut, almond and pistachio) and this week’s Santa Ysabel apple pie. And there are pure one-ingredient options like strawberry, coconut and pistachio.

8008 Girard Ave., La Jolla. (858) 255-8693.

Chocolat, Gaslamp Quarter & Hillcrest

True to its name, Chocolat uses six tons of cocoa each year in its housemade gelatos and other desserts. Daily flavors vary, but Chocolat makes 10 different varieties of chocolate gelato, including cinnamon, ginger, amaretto and orange. Its dark chocolate is especially favored for its strong, bitter flavor. Non-chocolate lovers needn’t fear. There are also a variety of cream and fruit-based options.

509 Fifth Ave., downtown. 3896 Fifth Ave., Hillcrest.

EscoGelato, Escondido

Founder Suzanne Schaffner serves 18 varieties of fresh gelato and sorbetto daily. She sources many of her ingredients from North County farms and has created nearly 100 flavors over the years. Some of the seasonal varieties are strawberry balsamic, blueberry basil, blood orange, gingersnap and pumpkin cheesecake. The shop is known for its unique combination flavors like sweet potato brown sugar, olive oil rosemary almond, Mexican hot cocoa, cream cheese cranberry pecan and almond fig/horchata.

122 S. Kalmia St., Escondido. (760) 745-6500.

Frost, Del Sur/Rancho Bernardo

Opened in May 2017 by Armando and Audrey Valles, this Del Sur shop sells 38 flavors of gelato and sorbetto each day, from a rotating menu of 90 flavors. Four to five new flavors join the mix each month.

Frost originated in Arizona in 2006 where the Valles, who own several entrepreneurial businesses, tasted it and saw its potential. They now own the San Diego County expansion rights and foresee opening more stores in the next two years in Encinitas and Poway.

Frost is known for its custom-made domed-glass freezer where its desserts are artfully displayed with fresh flowers, fruits and other ingredients. Its top-selling gelatos include sea salt caramel, gianduia (chocolate hazelnut) and stracciatella (chocolate chip); fresh fruit sorbets with a hint of alcohol including Limoncello, strawberry champagne and blackberry cabernet; and unusual mixed varieties like avocado, matcha and creme brulée. Besides scoops, the gelatos and sorbets are available in frozen drinks, affogatos (served in a pool of espresso), truffles, cakes and more.

16490 Paseo Del Sur No. 115, San Diego. (858) 312-6679.

Gaia Gelato co-founders and cousins Cristina Amoroso, left, and Paola Richard, at their store in Carlsbad.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Gaia Gelato, Carlsbad

Several years ago, Rome-born cousins Paola Richard and Cristina Amoroso walked away from their high-profile jobs in international media and finance to follow their dream and open this gelato shop together in Carlsbad Village Faire.

The 3-year-old shop — “gaia” means joyful in Italian — is one of the county’s most authentically Italian, using recipes and techniques Amoroso learned attending the University of Flavors, a gelato-making school in Perugia.

The shop’s signature flavor is Gaia Cremino, a mixture of vanilla, chocolate and almond marzipan. Most of the flavors have the original Italian spellings like nocciola (hazelnut) and cioccolato e menta (chocolate mint). But it has also developed its own American-style varieties like apple pie, whiskey & cream and Mexican chocolate.

In addition to sorbetto, Gaia also sells granita, an Italian ice dessert made with seasonal fruits, as well as a variety of imported Italian drinks and other products.

300 Carlsbad Village Drive, Suite 300, Carlsbad. (442) 500-8231.

Chocolate hazelnut gelato at Gelato Vero Caaffe in Mission Hills.
(Pam Kragen/San Diego Union-Tribune)

Gelato Vero Caffe, Mission Hills

Believed to be the longest-operating gelateria in San Diego, Gelato Vero was opened in 1984 by Henry Rabinowitz near another local institution, the El Indio taco shop.

The shop’s gelato is known for its low-sugar, smooth-textured and almost gooey consistency. The gelatos and sorbets are made with locally sourced ingredients from recipes created both in-house and by regional chefs.

Flavors vary from week to week, but some options are dark chocolate, French vanilla bean, Bailey’s, caramel balsamic, gianduia (chocolate hazelnut), maple walnut, tiramisu, dulce de leche and ginger.

3753 India St., San Diego. (619) 295-9269.

Luigi’s Gelateria, Pacific Beach

All flavors are made in-house at this 2-year-old family-run gelato shop. opened in 2016. The flavors are a mix of traditional Italian and American-inspired, including the popular Oreo, Snickers bar and When Dove Bars Fly (dark chocolate).

910 Grand Ave., Suite 108, Pacific Beach. (858) 412-4553.

Toasted coconut gelato at the Pappalecco shop in Kensington.
(Pam Kragen/San Diego Union-Tribune)

Pappalecco, multiple locations

Pappalecco was started 11 years ago in Little Italy by Tuscany-raised brothers Francesco and Lorenzo Bucci. The name is a made-up word combining the Italian words for “baby food” and “to lick.”

Pappalecco has since expanded to locations in Kensington, Hillcrest and Carmel Valley. Beyond frozen desserts and coffee, Pappalecco also sells a full Tuscan menu of coffees, paninis, pastries and breakfast items.

Gelato options vary by location, but many of its flavors are based on original Italian recipes for pistachio, hazelnut, tiramisu, chocolate chip and strawberry (fragola).

1602 State St., Little Italy; 12925 El Camino Real, Suite AA5, Carmel Valley; 3650 Fifth Ave., Hillcrest; 4202 Adams Ave., Kensington.

Nado Gelato by Bottega Italiana, Coronado

Nado serves all-natural gelato made from recipes developed at Bottega Italiana in Seattle’s Pike’s Place Market. Bottega imports many of its ingredients from Italy for its 60 flavors of gelato, which have won numerous national honors as the best in the U.S.

The menu is seasonal and includes vegan options and fresh fruit sorbettos. Top-sellers are the stracciatella (chocolate chip), pannacotta, salted caramel, gianduia (chocolate hazelnut) and tiramisu, as well as the strawberry basil sorbetto.

Bottega Italiana also operates a house-brand gelato shop at Westfield UTC with plans for a second in Encinitas in 2019.

1017 Avenue C, Coronado. (619) 522-9053; Westfield UTC, 4445 La Jolla Village Drive, Suite H-17, San Diego, (858) 404-0799. Twitter: @pamkragen