Originally published June 2015; updated July 2019
On a hot day or humid night, few things hit the spot better than a cool cup of water ice.
It’s sweet, but not overly sugary. Frozen, but easily slurped. Often made with real fruit, but still more brightly colored than a bag of jelly beans. And the best part — you’re hard pressed to find it anywhere but Philadelphia.
Sure, other cities have knock-off alternatives. There’s Italian ice (harder, usually, requiring scraping with a wooden spoon); frozen lemonade (only one flavor = boring); and slushies (softer and prone to causing brain freeze). Along with being the only place to use the idiosyncratic name (ice made from…water?) Philly seems to have a lock on the particular consistency and flavor balance that makes real wooder ice so great.
The treat originated with Italian immigrants recreating the granita commonly served in their native land. Many settled first in South Philly, so it’s no surprise that neighborhood is still flush with a great selection. There’s also a good assortment of shops that specialize in it across various other parts of the city — not to mention the ubiquitous chain that unceremoniously removed “water ice” from its name when it went corporate.
Here’s a rundown of the best places to get your water ice fix around Philadelphia.
A block or so from the Italian Market, this counter in a former auto mechanic garage has been serving since 1945. It’s now run by the second and third generations of the Cardullo family, whose secret recipes make use of fresh fruit. Don’t miss the rotating special flavors if you visit on a weekend. 701 Christian St.
After getting his start with a popular cart that still frequents his alma mater, Temple alum Siddiq Moore took his frozen treat prowess to Cobbs Creek. His colorful corner shop is helping transform the 60th Street corridor, but the product — don’t miss the unique white grape flavor — stands out on its own. 264 S. 60th St.
Overbrook in West Philly lays claim to what might be the longest serving water ice shop in the city, with a history dating back to 1925. Steven Caporaletti started working at the shop at age 15, and now runs the joint. Flavors are mostly classic, plus specials like blueberry, peach and mango. 200 N. 63th St.
Now 81, proprietor Phil Mancuso has been scooping water ice at his family’s East Passyunk market and cheese shop since he was eight years old. Stop in for a scoop of classic cherry, lemon or chocolate, and pick up some killer housemade mozzarella while you’re there. 1902 E Passyunk Ave.
A point of pride for residents of Germantown, this family-owned spot has been producing water ice since 1969. The wholesale production facility is fronted by a retail counter, where two dozen flavors are offered by the scoop or in “party buckets.” 5901 Belfield Ave.
A newcomer with a throwback vibe, this mobile operation launched in 2015 takes pride in extra-smooth textures and unusual flavor combos. Seek out the cart via social media, then revel in spoonfuls of “nectar cream” or guava strawberry lemonade, all made with organic fruit juice. Location varies
Open since 1993 — year-round! — this mom-and-pop Roxborough spot offers a full breakfast menu. From noon onward it’s water ice time, with a variety of flavors made in fresh batches throughout the day, including pineapple, grape and “mocaccino.” 4240 Pechin St.
Dropped in the middle of a residential area in Lower Moyamensing is this walk-up window, where the Italiano family has been scooping dozens of flavors since the 1970s. After a brief break, the shop returned last summer, still boasting its claim to fame: inventing the water ice/ice cream combo known regionally as “gelati.” 2551 S. 12th St.
Legend has it that Filippo “Pop” Italiano started selling water ice from a pushcart way back in 1932, making him the true OG of the game. The Oregon Avenue shop his descendants now run offers many flavors, including the unique “iced tea water ice.” Bonus: open through 11 PM nightly. 1337 Oregon Ave.
This family-owned corner shop on the southern edge of West Passyunk has been slinging frozen sweets since the late ’80s. Look for flavors like blackberry and mango, and pick up a soft pretzel side for a well-rounded Philly snack. 2335 S. Hemberger St.
Instead of a trip to the boardwalk, make your way to this two-decade-old Pennsport stand, where more than a dozen kinds of water ice are served along with funnel cake and fried Twinkies and Oreos. Also on offer: sugar-free water ice, and reports say it’s not half bad. 2251 S. Front St.
While entrepreneur Andre Andrews is busy marketing his line of “Southern style” ice creams, his mobile stand’s water ice continues to get shout outs. Black Thought of the Roots is one of his biggest fans, especially of the sweet potato flavor. Location varies
In 1957, Mickey Nerenberg bought a truck for $100, outfitted it with a freezer and began selling water ice around the city. A few years later, he and his brother went brick and mortar and opened a store at the edge of East Kensington. With at least four dozen flavors, the shop is now in its 54th year and still going strong. 1950 E. Lehigh Ave.
A favorite of students when it was located across from Overbrook High, this stand has moved and is now open in Strawberry Mansion on the edge of East Fairmount Park. Soft pretzels and late-night hours help the shop maintain its popularity. 1641 N. 33rd St.
A triangular corner is the home of this Olney shop, open since 2011. Customers say the housemade ice is on point, with unusual options like granny smith apple, watermelon and passion fruit. 6332 N. 18th St.
From kiwi to tangerine to pistachio, 20 flavors of water ice stock the menu at this Kingsessing stand. Late-nighters take note: It serves ice daily through midnight, along with snack essentials like cheese pretzels and chicken tenders. 5343 Chester Ave.
This nationwide chain got its start in Philadelphia, so each of the local stores maintains a shred of local cred. If you want top brand flavors like Swedish Fish or Sour Patch kids, this is where to go. Multiple locations
Water ice in Philly, mapped
WHYY News intern Lamar Reed contributed reporting.