Once your kids have mastered ice cream, it’s time to make a Chicago bucket list of all the weird, crazy, sweet places to try that are kinda-sorta-like ice cream in its most untraditional form. Got a picky eater? Start him off with a green tea shaved snow, and in no time, he’ll be eating sushi.
This may be our new favorite ice cream place—and that’s a big deal. Snow Dragon specializes in Taiwanese shaved snow, which is to ice cream what a gyro is to meat. They essentially have a machine that shaves layers of light snow off of a huge chunk of something resembling ice cream (it’s got dairy in it, at least). The result is a creamy, airy, melt-in-your mouth goodness that may be better than ice cream (this seems crazy to say, since ice cream is our favorite food group). Next, you get to drizzle on a wet topping (go for the condensed milk) and two side toppings (employees suggested mochi and pomegranate balls to go with our green tea and they were spot-on). If you can’t get behind the texture of the shaved snow, go for the Macaron Sandwich, which is regular ice cream wedged between two macarons. Delish.
2618 N. Clark St., Chicago
Few of the employees here speak English, so be prepared to do a lot of pointing if you don’t speak Spanish. The yogurt is a huge seller, and it’s beyond anything we’d ever tried. It comes in flavors like plain and mango (and a few others that we couldn’t understand because our Spanish education ended in high school). The yogurt, which is a liquid, comes in a cup and you choose fruit and other toppings. We chose M&Ms and sprinkles, though the woman helping finally explained that we were supposed to be choosing granola, nuts and raisins—so we added those as well. The result was a super-sweet crunchy almost-smoothie. They also have all different flavors of ice cream. Try the horchata (sweet rice) ice cream and any of the dozens of paletas (popsicles).
6533 W. Cermak Road, Berwyn
Order the Korean shaved ice, and about six minutes later, you’ll be presented with an entree-sized creation (one order should feed the entire family). On the bottom, there’s shaved ice, similar to a snow cone. It’s topped with vanilla ice cream, mango-type tapioca, muffin-top bits that look like brownies, bananas, strawberries, mangos and… red beans. “Why are there beans on my ice cream?” asked one of our child testers. But she didn’t pause long enough to hear our answer (“Try it, maybe you’ll like it.”). We dug in and tried the oddish mish-mash of flavors. The ice made it refreshing, while the beans and banana gave it a creamy consistency, almost like a healthy chocolate. And while the kids won’t be requesting red beans on their ice cream any time soon, they won’t mind it, either.
1211 N. LaSalle Drive, Chicago
Got a picky eater who may not be ready to venture out into the world of untraditional ice cream? Trader Joe’s is the perfect place for beginners. Grab a box of Chocolate Mochi Ice Cream. It’s a traditional Japanese dessert (though green tea is the traditional Japanese flavor, not chocolate), and it tastes like chocolate ice cream wrapped in a rice cake. We can’t stop at just one—my family usually eats the entire box. Once your kids have mastered the chocolate flavor, move them on to the Green Tea Mochi, also sold at Trader Joe’s. Got that down? Then they can order the mochi at any Japanese restaurant like pros. Trader Joe’s locations throughout the Chicago area.
This Northpark café does its own version of bingsoo (Korean shaved ice), and it’s overflowing with toppings. They drizzle it with a sweet fruit syrup, and the mango and mochi will satisfy any sugar craving. It also has red beans, bananas and strawberries (served with vanilla or strawberry ice cream). This location tends to get a little crowded, so go during off-peak hours (weekdays and mid-afternoons are best).
3247 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Chicago