Brain Freeze!

22 of Our Favorite Icy Treats Across Houston

These are some of our choices for the best ice cream, raspas, shaved ice, and other cool concoctions around town.

By Joanna O'Leary and Timothy Malcolm

Summer is here, and the time is right for letting the icy desserts (think ice cream, snow cones, milkshakes, raspas galore) completely overtake your life. While the mercury soars over 100 degrees and the swampy, sticky air sets in, grab yourself one of our favorite icy treats from across Houston as a refreshing reminder that this season need not lack in comforts.

While not comprehensive, may this list be your guide. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic you can get each of the following, as takeout is available from all of the establishments listed below. 

Agha Juice: Gola Ganda

This Pakistani shop is known for its tropical juices, faloodas (ice cream drinks with vermicelli noodles, basil seeds, and syrup), and—our favorite—tangy, sweet gola ganda, a traditional dessert made with shaved ice, condensed milk, and syrups in flavors including orange, rose, and the tamarind-derived khala khatta. CypressSharpstown, Sugar Land |

Aqua S: Sea Salt Ice Cream

As much as one wants to credit the light, airy, and downright delicious soft serve for Aqua S's success, it's just as much because of its Instagrammability (yes, that's a word now). Top your your cute ice cream with toasted marshmallows or caramel popcorn, and you'd better put it in a charcoal cone. Then pose against pink angel wings. Takes your breath away, doesn't it? Bellaire, Heights |

Avalon Diner: Chocolate or Banana Malt

This retro diner with hard-to-find tootsie roll pop flavors is appropriately home to an equally old school-style frozen beverage made from real malt powder and chocolate ice cream. The banana version is also delectable with a mild sweetness from plump, overripe, real nanners. Kirkwood, Memorial VillagesRiver Oaks, Stafford |

The Fruit Addict chè from Bambu Desserts & Drinks. 

Bambu Desserts & Drinks: Chè

The offerings are myriad at the Houston location of this national chain—teas, smoothies, juices, and coffees—but this summer, go for a chè, a loaded Vietnamese dessert drink topped with crushed ice. There are nine flavors on offer, and it’s impossible to go wrong, but we can’t get enough of the exhilarating Fruit Addict, which combines lychee, longan, jackfruit, red tapioca, pandan jelly, palm seed, Jell-O, and coconut milk. Bellaire, Greenspoint, Southeast Houston |

Best of Filipiniana: Halo-Halo

After enjoying a buffet lunch of, say, traditional Filipino beef or goat stew, have a halo-halo to cool down. The popular crushed ice drink contains many tasty things: evaporated milk, flan, banana, jackfruit, pineapple, toasted rice, white beans, and vanilla ice cream. It’s creamy, crispy, sweet, and savory, all at the same time. Braeburn | 713-272-8888

Rosewater stretchy ice cream from Booza.

Image: Jeff Fitlow

Booza: Rosewater Stretchy Ice Cream

Booza is one of the first and only creameries to offer this ice cream whose unique elasticity is due to the inclusion of a starch called stepa. The resultant slightly chewy mouthfeel is most enjoyable when savoring the rosewater variety: You feel as if you're licking cool petals off a delicious, sweet flower. Larchmont | 832-831-3176

The Moondriver at Bungalow Heights.

Image: Jeff Fitlow

Bungalow Heights: Moondriver

The best of the beer and classic cocktail worlds collide in Bungalow Heights' "Moondriver," an icy collaboration between frozen OJ, Deep Eddy vodka, and Blue Moon. Sip slowly to avoid brain freeze, and as the drink gradually melts so, too, will your stress. Heights |

Burger Joint: Rocket Fuel Shake

Craving cream, but thirsty for an adult beverage? The Burger Joint has a shake that helps you kill two birds with one stone. The 8th Wonder Rocket Fuel shake utilizes the eponymous brewery's lager as a base for a thick-as-a-brick shake made with your choice of ice cream. Montrose, Heights |

Cloud 10 Creamery's banana split. 

Cloud 10 Creamery: Banana Split

Well known for its creative ice creams, Cloud 10 offers a heavenly banana split whose composition transcends the pedestrian version. The exact components vary, but look for a triplet of scoops in flavors such as marshmallow-topped with brown-sugar crumble; homemade berry jams; and caramelized bananas. Heights, Midtown, Montrose |

Flamingo Chill: Chamoyada

With its neon palm trees and Miami Vice color scheme, this shop might be mistaken for the hottest ’80s club in Houston; actually, it’s a great place for raspas, or Mexican snow cones. Find a spot on the large patio to enjoy your hot dog and chamoyada (a mango raspa coupled with salty, spicy chamoy) or diablito (a lime raspa doused in Tajín and chamoy for a chile-citrus explosion). Northside | 713-692-1006

Frio To Go: Daiquiri

There are a number of different flavor combinations and special alcoholic drinks you can get here, but let's slow down and consider this: Your writer grew up in the metropolitan East Coast, where the idea of a drive-thru alcohol vendor is not only laughable but completely unknown. Frio To Go is one of the few spots in town that gives you a cup of slushy goodness (sealed tight, of course) while on the way home from the grocery store or work. To enjoy the strong rum beverage, go home first, and relax. Northwest Houston |

Gogo Ice: Hawaiian Shaved Ice

"What is that?" asked so many of us when we saw former President Obama savoring this unique frozen confection in his home state. Fortunately you don't have to go to Hawaii to try this unique concoction with its distinctive fluffy consistency. Gogo Ice offers an authentic take on this beloved island favorite in humidity-proof flavors such mango-pineapple and piña colada. Bellaire | 281-902-9298

Hank's Ice Cream: Banana Pudding Waffle Cone

This historic family-run (still!) institution has stood the test of time probably because its signature flavor, banana pudding, is the consummate oldie-but-goodie. Go for the waffle cone, natch, as it holds the maximum amount of cream and will help you wrangle those large Nilla wafer chunks. South Main | 713-665-5103

Snow ice from Ice Valley Cafe.

Ice Valley Cafe: Snow Ice

This quaint Cy-Fair operation is a one-stop shop for frozen treats, from milkshakes to smoothies, cold fruit tea to boba. Ordering snow ice is simple: Choose your size and flavor (we love the bittersweet green tea), then add in up to three toppings (extras are just $1 more each). For texture and both tartness and sweetness, we approve of boba, papaya, and mango. The result is a refreshing dessert of flavored ice formed into fluffy peaks, surrounded by fresh ingredients that ensure no two bites are alike. Cypress | 832-674-8326

La Lucha: Soft-Serve

La Lucha elevates the soft serve of your childhood by offering innovative varietals such as Nutella, as well as encouraging patrons to dress their cones with an assortment of off-the-beaten palate toppings like extra-virgin olive oil, fruity pebbles, crispy chicken skins, and saltines. Heights |

Milk + Sugar's Thai tea ice cream. 

Milk + Sugar: Thai Tea Ice Cream

In Milk + Sugar's frozen form of Thailand's famous brew, the notes of cardamom and star anise are front and center, making for an ice cream that is bold, earthy, and sensuous. A double scoop is $6.50, and we suggest springing for a waffle cone ($1.25). Montrose |

Nu Cafe: Snowflake Ice

Snowflake ice, as it’s called in Taiwan, involves freezing water and condensed milk, then running it through a machine that shaves it into treats that resemble flaky, ridged mountains. This Dun Huang Plaza shop specializes in the creation, and we love the matcha flavor as well as the dreamy sea-salt-caramel version, especially when it’s topped with rainbow marshmallows, Oreos, and condensed milk. Bellaire |

The Rita's gelati: cherry with vanilla custard.

Rita's Italian Ice: Gelati

For kids growing up in Philadelphia, summer days included long walks to the nearby stand for cherry, root beer, or lemon water ice, also known as Italian ice. Occasionally the order was a gelati (to those really in the know it's called a radio ball), in which soft-serve ice cream or custard alternates with flavored Italian ice. Rita's, a Philly company that nationalized the official dessert of the City of Brotherly Love, gives you the opportunity to indulge in a gelati. Cherry with vanilla custard is the standard intro, but don't be afraid to mix it up (raspberry lemonade and strawberry cheesecake?), and don't hesitate calling it by its official Philly name: "Large radio ball please!" Heights |

Ice cream sandwiches from Smoosh. 

Smoosh: Double Chocolate Chip Cookies with Cookie Monster Ice Cream

Few things in this world are better than cookies and milk. One notable exception is Smoosh's ice cream cookie sandwiches. The diverse range of cookies, creams, and toppings allows for numerous unique combinations, but our favorite is the cocoa-rich double chocolate chip cookies with electric blue vanilla ice cream. Heights |

The Pick-a-Dilly from Sno Dreamz.

Image: Jeff Fitlow

Sno Dreamz: Pick-a-Dilly

You haven’t lived until you’ve added chopped pickles to your snow cone. This colorful little stand with two Houston locations serves ice chopped so fine, it’s almost smooth—an excellent vehicle for all its creations, but especially the Pick-a-Dilly, a sweet-and-sour snow cone with dill pickle pieces and a cherry Kool-Aid topping. If that’s not your thing, though, try the Superman, a mix of tiger’s blood (coconut, strawberry, watermelon) and dreamsicle (orange and vanilla) syrups. Snacks including boudin and Frito pies are also on offer. South Central, Brays Oaks | 

Star Snow Ice & Teriyaki: Green Tea Shaved Ice

After a plate of beef teriyaki or a fried pork chop at this bustling combo spot inside Dun Huang Plaza, order one of the shaved ices for a sweet finish. There are seven base flavors—get the refreshing green tea—with the ice folded into pretty ribbons. Load up your cup with up to four toppings, from kiwis to red beans. Condensed milk is 50 cents extra. Bellaire |

Tampico Refresqueria: 'Natural' Raspa

When it’s warm, there’s sure to be a line at this cheerful stand offering elote, Hot Cheetos nachos, and “natural” raspas with homemade syrups. Our favorites among the icy treats: the piquant tamarindo, topped with crema, and the limón, with a healthy dousing of chamoy. Heights | 713-880-3040

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