Who makes the best ice cream in Jerusalem? This is a question often debated on social media or at Shabbat meals with friends. In Jerusalem went out looking to find the crème de la crème of ice cream shops, leaving no spoon unturned in our quest to bring you the inside scoop.
Israelis love their ice cream. The average Israeli eats about 10 liters of ice cream per year, ranking seventh in the world in consumption. And in recent years, more and more Israelis have learned to appreciate high-quality ice cream and its close relative, gelato.
Generally speaking, gelato (Italian for ice cream) is richer, denser, and smoother than the ice cream sold in the freezer sections at your local supermarket. Unlike packaged ice cream, gelato is best served fresh, so any serious gelato maker must make their entire stock fresh every day.
Israel is now a global leader in the ice cream industry, but the local market is competitive. While Jerusalem had relatively few quality ice cream parlors a decade ago, the city is now full of top-notch parlors with flashy marketing, creative flavors, and amazing experiences.
Sampling some of the Holy City’s best ice cream was a tough job, but fortunately, I had a willing team of children aged 5-11 who were happy to help out with the research. We visited half a dozen places and spoke with the owners to learn their stories and their industry secrets.
While we were treated to free samples at several of the places we visited, it’s not getting free ice cream that is the cherry on top of this amazing adventure for me – it’s the opportunity to speak with passionate entrepreneurs about their ice cream and their businesses.
On my trip I learned that salted caramel, chocolate pretzel (beigele in Hebrew), and pistachio are some of the most popular flavors in Israel, and that, contrary to popular belief, Israelis do eat ice cream during the winter.
A few notes before we start: This romp through Jerusalem includes only places with kosher certification. Some non-kosher establishments, like Vaniglia in First Station and Gelato Varigato on Azza Street are said to be excellent, but while some might make the argument that their ice cream probably meets all the halachic restrictions, without certification they are outside the scope of this article.
Also, while any foodie will tell you that ice cream and gelato are totally different products, I use the terms interchangeably here.
Now, I invite you to scream for ice cream and live vicariously as we sample the best creamy concoctions in the city.
- Address: 10 Hanassi and 3 other Jerusalem branches
- Price of a small cup or cone: NIS 16 for up to two flavors
- Most popular flavors (in order): Coffee, salted caramel, chocolate, vanilla
Yossi Schwarzfuchs and his wife started making and selling ice cream to friends (delivering from their home in Katamon) nearly 20 years ago.
“After we had our first daughter, my wife knew she didn’t want to go back to her job in hi-tech, so she went with her passion and we went to France to learn how to make ice cream,” Schwarzfuchs says.
In 2007, the couple opened a store in Katamon and another larger one another in the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk.
“That summer, a reporter discovered us and wrote a big article in the weekend edition with the front-page headline, “The decadent ice cream of the summer,” Schwarzfuchs recalls.
“The next week, the place was packed. And since then, we’ve continued to grow slowly, a step at a time. Now, we have three branches and a factory store in Talpiot. At this point, we are content being only in Jerusalem and don’t plan to open any more stores.”
Mousseline is not named after a fascist Italian dictator.
“The name has two meanings,” Schwarzfuchs says. “In French, it’s a very light type of mousse. It’s also the name of a very silky fabric that comes from the city of Mosul in Iraq.”
That’s appropriate since Mousseline’s ice cream is noticeably silkier and lighter than most other places make.
“I think we are the only place in Israel that makes ice cream in the French style, which includes eggs,” Schwarzfuchs says. “That’s what gives it such a light texture.”
Mousseline is also known for its creative and unusual flavors. My nine-year daughter and I sampled a bunch of flavors we wouldn’t normally order, like basil, saffron, matcha, rum-raisin and Arabica coffee. My daughter was most impressed with the coffee flavor, which Schwarzfuchs tells us is the store’s bestseller by a wide margin.
Mousseline makes all the ice cream fresh every morning at its Talpiot facility and delivers it to its branches.
“We don’t sell yesterday’s ice cream,” Schwarzfuchs says.
While they try out new flavors on rare occasions, the menu generally stays the same.
“We’re limited by space in the shop. Introducing a new flavor would mean removing another one from the freezer, which can lead to protests from customers who aren’t happy to see their favorite flavors disappear.”
Schwarzfuchs says the Hanassi Street branch is the chain’s most popular, selling even more than the branch in the shuk. Unfortunately, seating is limited, with only two outdoor tables available to accommodate the long lines of customers. But for many Jerusalemites, no other option will do for gelato.
- Address: Mamilla Mall and 4 other Jerusalem branches
- Price of a small cup or cone: NIS 19
- Most popular flavors: Chocolate Beigele (“pretzel”), followed by chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio
In recent years, Golda has become arguably the most popular ice cream chain in Israel, with more than 140 branches around the country. When the chain’s first Jerusalem branch opened in the Mamilla Mall six years ago, it was just its 11th store.
John Yedid, who owns the franchise, got his big break with the company when he joined just after he finished his army service.
“I was working in Tel Aviv, and after about eight months, I opened my first franchise in Jerusalem with a partner. Then, about a year ago, my partner wanted to stop working in Mamilla, so I acquired his share from him. Golda provides its secret recipes, and we buy our supplies from them and we make our own ice cream in-house every day.”
2019 was the year that Golda started to grow rapidly, doubling its number of stores.
“That’s the year we came out with the chocolate pretzel flavor, and I think that’s what pushed things over the edge,” Yedid says. “It’s still our most popular flavor. We sell about 20 kilos of it every day.”
The Mamilla branch carries 24 flavors of ice cream, Yedid notes.
“Of these, 22 are the core flavors that we always carry,” he says, and then there are another eight flavors that they rotate, two at a time.
What sets Golda apart is its unwavering commitment to fresh, artisanal ice cream and great service, Yedid says. The ice cream is made daily from only the finest ingredients and the 35 employees working at the Mamilla branch are carefully chosen for their passion and commitment to creating a warm and inviting atmosphere.
The Mamilla Mall, just outside the Old City, is an incredible location for an ice cream store. As my kids and I sit in the outdoor plaza eating enjoying cones of coconut and Cookieman ice cream, tourists keep streaming past and a musician plays just a few meters away.
“This is one of Golda’s most successful branches in the country,” Yedid says. “The fact that there are always tourists here means that people are buying ice cream into the colder months. We also sell crepes and other warm foods which sell better in the winter.”
At NIS 19 a scoop, Golda is the most expensive ice cream on our list, but judging by the throngs of people sitting outside all day long, price doesn’t seem to be an issue for most customers.
- Address: Emek Refaim 42 and 2 other Jerusalem branches
- Price of a single cup or cone: NIS 18
- Most popular flavors: Pistacchio, Ferrero Rocher, salted caramel
“When I opened my store on Emek Refaim 12 years ago, I was the only one in Jerusalem selling high-quality gelato ice cream,” says Moty Yehoshua.” “Now, it is available everywhere.”
Yehoshua started his restaurant career with Tal Bagels, a popular spot on Emek Refaim he opened in 2007 and sold 10 years later.
“It was very successful, but I was working all the time, I never got to see my family,” he says. So at a certain point, I sold that and focused my energy on Aldo.” The shop started in a small location further down Emek Refaim, which gets less foot traffic and moved to a bigger location on the corner of Emek Refaim and Rachel Imeinu about five years ago.
Aldo offers a wider variety of products than some of the other ice cream shops. Yehoshua points out the different varieties of ice creams and sorbets, hot and cold drinks, souffles and crepes, and several chocolate products the store sells. There are also healthy options, including frozen yogurt with fresh fruits. Only the highest quality ingredients are used in all products.
“Sorbet sells especially well on Friday, because it is parev, and people come in and buy containers to eat for dessert on Shabbat,” Yehoshua says.
But gelato remains Aldo’s core business.
“By gelato, I mean the Italian way of making ice cream, serving it fresh every day. Ice cream tastes much better when it is made fresh that day. But it also means that if you come in later in the day, it is possible we will be out of a certain flavor and we won’t have it again until tomorrow. We try to plan to make the right amount of each flavor – and you can see that we have larger containers for the most popular flavors and smaller containers for the less popular flavors.”
Yehoshua gives me small scoops of many of the most popular flavors and I eat them so quickly I can’t process the different flavors. Most of the best are chocolate variations like crispy chocolate caramel, Crunch Blondie, salted caramel, and Ferrero Rocher. A very refreshing lemon mint sorbet also catches my attention.
Aldo recently started offering deliveries through Wolt, and Yehoshua is pleased with how that is going.
During the winter, sales are just about 60% of summer revenues, thanks in part to the options of warm treats that Aldo offers.
“But it is worth noting that more and more people are starting to eat ice cream during the winter,” Yehoshua says.
When I was a child, my mother told me that I would get sick if I ate ice cream when it was cold outside. But now, people have changed their attitudes on that. People tend to want chocolate and caramel when it’s cold, not fruit flavors.”
The most important thing for Yehoshua is customer service.
“I tell my employees that you can spend billions building the most incredible business and one bad clerk can ruin the whole business. I make sure that my workers smile and that they are knowledgeable about our products and ready to do everything to serve the customer. Without that, people won’t keep coming back.”
- Address: Ben Yehuda 2 and 11 other Jerusalem branches
- Price of a small cup or cone: NIS 15
- Popular flavor: Triple chocolate
- Mehadrin - Chatam Sofer
When I first visited Israel as a yeshiva student in the 1990s, the place where everyone hung out was by the ice cream place toward the bottom of the Ben Yehuda pedestrian street. We called it Fro-Yo, because the sign on the store simply said “Frozen Yogurt”, but even then, it was run by Katzefet, now the most ubiquitous chain in the city.
When I brought the kids with me on a Friday afternoon, the ample outdoor seating was packed and musicians played to the crowds nearby as we enjoyed our ice cream. I didn’t love my triple chocolate cone, but the chocolate beigele flavor was good. My five-year-old ordered Minions flavor, a blue marshmallow ice cream with pink and white swirls named for the popular cartoon creatures. I thought it was a bit unappetizing, but my daughter remembers it as her favorite ice cream of our entire adventure. When it comes to ice cream, you can’t argue over taste.
- Address: Jaffa 104
- Price of a small cup or cone: NIS 18
- Most popular flavor: Pistacchio
- Mehadrin – Beit Yosef
Jetlek is the new kid on the block, opening in Jerusalem just six weeks before my visit in mid-June.
“I made aliyah from France 30 years ago, and have been back and forth since then,” says Yosef Cohen, the owner of the Jerusalem branch.
“My father owned an ice cream store in Tunisia in the 1960s and I always wanted to follow in his footsteps. When I moved back to Israel two years ago, I decided to search for a franchise chain that made quality ice cream, and I found Jetlek, which has 10 other branches around the country. It is very important to me that we offer very high-quality products with top-level ingredients from Italy, even though people told us that it isn’t worth investing in because Israelis don’t appreciate good ice cream.”
Like the other shops, Jetlek makes its ice cream, cones and condiments fresh every day. The shop is strongly influenced by upscale European ice cream parlors, with glitzy lights and French newspapers on the walls. In addition to the usual ice cream flavors and products, Jetlek specializes in offering an assortment of “decadent creations,” large portions with copious mixtures of ice cream, cookies, pancakes, knafeh and more.
My five-year-old and I split a cup of salted caramel ice cream, a bit tired after a busy day of tastings. Very good, like everything else we had tasted at Jetlek.
- Address: Beit Lehem 31
- Prices: NIS 11 for an ice pop, NIS 17 for a scoop
- Most popular flavors: Pistacchio, pistachio berry, coffee
A few people mentioned that we should try Tziga, a small local shop in Baka that opened in 2019. Tziga specializes in gourmet ice pops, which it calls Tzigonim, in a variety of creative flavors like pistachio-berry and peanut-butter-and-jelly. People come from all over the country for them, our server tells us, and they make up about half of all sales at Tziga. All ice cream and ice pops are made fresh every day.
Tziga is owned by Sigal Ohayoun, who also owns two other well-known eateries along the Beit Lehem shopping strip, the Beit Lehem bakery and the Bresaola deli.
- Address: Tiferet Yisrael 6 in the Old City, and two other Jerusalem locations
- Price for one scoop: NIS 15
Zisalek caters primarily to the haredi sector, with Jerusalem branches in the Old City, Center One and the Ramot Mall. The company, founded in 2010, also has branches in Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh, Petah Tikva and Kiryat Ata. It also opened its first shop in New York a decade ago. The well-known chain offers high-quality ice cream made every day with friendly service and strict kashrut supervision. The name Zisalek is a mixture of the Yiddish words “zis” – sweet and “lek” – “lick.”
- Address: Haeshkol 6 in Mahaneh Yehuda
- Price for an ice cream cookie: NIS 45 large, NIS 25 small
- Most popular flavors: Salted caramel, pretzel, malabi
Cookie Cream is a bit different than the others on this list, with its main focus on ice cream cookie sandwiches.
“We make the ice cream and the cookies fresh here every day, and you can choose your cookies and ice cream and we make a sandwich,” explains founder Liran Eilon.
A native of Jerusalem’s Kiryat Yovel neighborhood, Eilon founded Cookie Cream eight years ago.
“Previously, we had five stores around the country, but COVID created a big mess for us, and now we are only this branch,” he says. He says that Cookie Creams sells “a lot through Wolt now” and currently has no plans to expand.
My five-year-old daughter and I order a small sandwich with a chocolate chip cookie, a candy crush cookie and a Hershey ice cream inside (her choices). They are as delicious as they sound and make an even bigger mess than ice cream cones. Seating, just off Mahane Yehuda’s main thoroughfare, is plentiful, with all the hectic excitement of the shuk.
Cookie Cream also offers straight ice cream, milkshakes, Spanish churros, and a decadent “cookie pizza” cut into eight slices, with a different flavor of ice cream on each one. Eilon also owns a shop called Kaboom a few meters away, where he sells fancy Krembo-style cookies with decadent and ornate layers of marshmallow and cream on top.
SO WHICH ONE was the best? After all these tastings, a very clear favorite did emerge, but I also concluded that it really doesn’t matter. All ice cream is yummy and makes people happy and the difference between the best and worst ice creams on this list is pretty small. Most places offer the same delicious flavors at the same prices. Generally, the most important consideration to take into account is location location location.
That being said, I’m singling out Mousseline for three clear reasons. Firstly, its ice cream does seem to be distinctly silkier and more natural tasting than the others. Second, it has by far the most creative and local flavors. Tastes like basil and saffron are not only unique – they feel authentically Jerusalemite. Third, the fact that you can choose two flavors in a small cup or cone is a huge advantage for parents of indecisive children or anyone who doesn’t want to commit to just one flavor. For those reasons, Mousseline is our winner, although it should be noted that the sparse seating options are a big strike against it.
I hope you have enjoyed our frozen adventure together, and I wish you a summer full of sweet, creamy, and refreshing frozen pleasures. ❖