It’s summer, which means it’s time to dip a plastic spoon into a tall cup of sweet and frosty water ice.
The Italian dessert is a tradition in itself within the Philadelphia region, where its roots are traced back to Italian families who brought the recipe with them when they moved from Italy. While it’s similar to shaved ice and Italian ice, water ice is different. It’s creamier than shaved ice yet icier than Italian ice. And just three ingredients are needed to make the classic recipe: water, sugar, and fruit.
Whether you’re craving a classic cherry cup, a gelati (which combines layers of water ice with ice cream), or a combination of water ice flavors in one cup, there are many, many places for excellent water ice in Philly and the surrounding towns.
Here’s a guide to the best water (wooder) ice in Philly.
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There’s no artificial syrup or fake flavors in the water ice at this Christian St. water ice institution, which has been serving cold cups of frozen treats since 1945. Staple flavors include cherry, lemon, pineapple, and chocolate, with special announced-on-Instagram flavors (mango, honeydew, peach) rotating week by week.
Italian immigrants Nobile and Olimpia Tranzilli opened Germantown’s Tranzilli’s Real Italian Water Ice in 1969, and the family still runs the wholesale and scoop shop today. It’s loved by locals for its large menu with more than 20 water ice flavors, including margarita, mocha, blueberry, lemon, tangerine, and cotton candy.
Pop’s started as a small pushcart selling water ice to the South Philadelphia neighborhood back in 1932. Today, there are two locations of this beloved frozen treat shop: one on Oregon Ave. in South Philly and one on W. Eagle Ave. in Havertown.
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There are a number of ways to get Dre’s Water Ice and Ice Cream, a super-popular water ice maker that serves the delicacy in flavors like mango and passionfruit throughout Philadelphia, in addition to along the Eastern seaboard. Dre’s Water Ice is available daily at a summertime pop-up at Spruce Street Harbor Park and can also be delivered locally and shipped throughout the region. Starting in July, its pushcart and ice cream truck will be at LOVE Park almost daily and at 57th and Vine in West Philly once a week or so. Pushcart and truck locations are shared on Dre’s Instagram.
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Chris D’Emilio of East Passyunk Ave.’s D’Emilio’s Old World Ice Treats learned how to make his version of water ice from his grandmother. On the D’Emilio’s menu, it’s called sorbetto, which is what his grandmom called it. His sorbetto is a delicious mix between gelato (texture-wise) and water ice (flavor-wise), and he serves four to seven varieties a day in flavor-packed blends like peach-raspberry-lemonade and pineapple-orange-guava. His menu changes daily and is announced on Instagram and Facebook at noon.
What started as a food cart at Temple University is now a two-shop water ice operation with locations in West Philly and Chester. Siddiq Moore’s namesake store serves water ice steeped in fruit, creating a flavor-forward, fresh taste in varieties like mango-berry, white grape, and cantaloupe.
Walk up to the window at Fred’s Water Ice to place your order for a fruity cup of water ice, available in flavors like Swedish fish, kiwi strawberry, coconut cream, and peach. Many choose to layer their water ice at this West Philly establishment (which means you get to order two flavors at once) or order a gelati (water ice layered with ice cream).
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The walk-up window at Jimmy’s Water Ice at Wolf and Front Sts. in South Philly is the key to a menu of ice treats. Water ice comes in popular flavors like chocolate, cherry, and vanilla fudge. And if your water ice isn’t Philly enough for you, Jimmy’s also sells soft pretzels.