Perhaps the greatest surprise upon moving to Cuenca for this expatriated native of America’s Dairyland is the ubiquity of ice cream (‘helado’ in Spanish) in this Andean city. While the US has its Baskin-Robbins and a few other smaller chains, I know of nothing in the US that compares with Cuenca’s ice cream shops in every barrio. Whether that be the major chains of Tutto Freddo, Monte Bianco, or Bogati’s which offer a breath-taking array of flavors and creative flavor combinations; or one of the many independents that offer their own personal, artisinal approach.
Even in my hometown of Milwaukee, where ice cream is worshipped (they add egg yolks for extra flavor to make frozen custard) – there is not the variety or easy availability of these delicious dairy desserts that we enjoy in Cuenca.
So here is a list that is not exactly a “10 Best” list, but a list of ten ice cream stores (and one home-based business) that the YapaTree writers have come to enjoy and love. Don’t try them all in one day – this deadline-pressed writer found even two doses of ice cream in a day can be too much!
Here’s the scoop.
Cuenca’s Chain Ice Cream Stores
Tutto Freddo – the “everyman’s” ice cream shop
With 16 locations in Cuenca (among over 60 throughout Ecuador), Tutto Freddo is the most visible ice cream shop in the area. You’ll find them in the food courts of most shopping malls and in neighborhood locations designed mainly for walkup business. Tutto Freddo’s flagship store – called Angelus by Tutto Freddo – is located on Parque Calderon at the southwest corner of Benigno Malo and Simon Bolivar, has two stories and offers a wide selection of pastries and other desserts. Tutto Freddo offers a variety of flavors and price points. You can get a soft-serve cone in vanilla or chocolate for 90 cents, or a wider range of “artisanal” flavors in cones or dishes at a higher price. Though its stores also sell lasagna, pizza, and wings, the focus is clearly on ice cream and Tutto Freddo is a solid, easy-to-find, choice for a wide audience.
Where to find Tutto Freddo
Details and locations: www.tuttofreddo.ec. You can order for delivery to your home at the website, too (dangerously convenient). Some locations offer excellent chocolate and vanilla in sugar-free form.
Monte Bianco – ice cream and other desserts served where Cuencanos play
Monte Bianco Heladeria y Pasteleria is another of Cuenca’s larger and more visible chains, with eight locations throughout the city. Though offering an extensive selection of ice cream flavors in cones (conos) and cups (copas or vasitos), Monte Bianco also offers a selection of pastries and cakes. In contrast to Tutto Freddo, Monte Bianco’s stores offer more spacious seating. This, together with its locations that are often near parks, provides a leisurely experience that fits right in with Cuenca’s relaxed vibe.
Where to find Monte Bianco
- Address: Simón Bolívar Y Tomás Ordóñez
You can order in by messaging Whatsapp +593 99 310 8829. Oddly, there is no page showing all their locations. Try entering Monte Biano on Google maps for suggestions.
Bogati’s – where cheese meets ice cream
Here’s where Cuenca’s ice cream world gets interesting. If Tutto Freddo and Monte Bianco offer traditional ice cream shops for everybody, Bogati’s offers a different spin on this dairy dessert. Their ice cream cups sit on a bed of grated mild white cheese and are topped with the same shards of queso. I had my first “Copa Bogati” recently and found it an unusual but satisfying dessert. The shredded cheese gives the ice cream an added layer of texture and firmness that makes it feel more substantial than a simple scoop of ice cream. Though this Wisconsin native will never turn down the chance to eat cheese, I found that the cheese, as mild as it was, tended to overpower the ice cream flavor.
Still, with 10 locations across the city, it’s obviously a hit with Cuencanos. The store I visited on Simon Bolivar and Juan Montalvo in the San Sebas barrio, late on a Sunday afternoon, was packed with families. The Bogati’s chain was founded in Riobamba in 1996, and now has franchised stores throughout Ecuador.
Where to find Bogati
- View locations on website: www.bogati.ec
Independents for Artisanal and Niche Ice Cream Products
Beyond the chains, there are many independent ice cream makers who exemplify Cuenca’s entrepreneurial spirit by making and selling ice cream, offering products that differ from the mainstream offerings found in the chains.
San Sebas – a family business in Cuenca’s premier barrio for ice cream makes a refreshing, fruity helado
Rosario Sanchez, owner of a tienda in the San Sebastian neighborhood, began making ice cream in 1971 because her tienda customers asked for it. Their ‘paletas’ (ice cream on a stick) and ‘batidos’ (milkshakes) became so popular that two years ago the family decided to forgo the tienda and focus entirely on their ice cream business.
While they sell cones, paletas, and batidos in a variety of flavors (mora, naranjilla, tomate, and chocolate) from their store at Baltazara de Calderon 2-02 and Miguel Velez, their larger packages to take home are available only in limón and maracuyá (passion fruit). Ramiro Ugalde, grandson of founder Rosario Sanchez, who now leads the company, says their ice cream is made only with locally sourced ingredients, and natural flavors. They use a higher ratio of fruit juice to milk than is the norm, and no water. The result is a refreshing helado that I found creamier than gelato, but lighter and fruitier than more traditional ice cream blends.
Ramiro Ugalde says they chose the name ‘San Sebas’ for their business not only because it’s where their store is located, but because the neighborhood is known for its ice cream, just as Todos Santos is known for its bread, San Joaquin is known for its meats, and 9th de Octubre is known for cuy. A walk around the San Sebastian barrio proves that. There’s a Bogati’s nearby and number of other small independent shops.
Where to Find San Sebas Helados
- Address: Baltazara de Calderon 2-02 and Miguel Velez
- Facebook: San Sebas Helados | Cuenca
Helados La Tienda – paletas that have become a Cuenca favorite
We presume the residents of the south side area just north of Parque Paraiso might take issue with San Sebastian’s claim of ice cream supremacy, as this neighborhood is home to a Cuenca favorite, Helados La Tienda. Like San Sebas, Helado La Tienda began, as its name would suggest, as a tienda selling ice cream that became so popular it eclipsed the business where it began.
The original location on Medardo A. Silva is now exclusively an ice cream shop, and Helados La Tienda has expanded to additional locations, including one on Parque Calderon. Their main product is a paleta (though they sell soft serve as well), in flavors that include mango, passionfruit, chocolate, and condensed milk. The best-selling flavor, though, is an original called Amor Brujo (Witch Love). The taste of Amor Brujo’s secret recipe is hard to describe, it struck me as a mildly spicy mix of caramel, chocolate and vanilla. Looking at the other patrons on my visit to the original location, I could see it was a favorite of the regulars.
Where to find Helados La Tienda
- Medardo A. Silva, Cuenca (Original Store)
- Website: https://helados-la-tienda.negocio.site/
Helú – rich and creamy artisanal ice cream in a corner of Puertas del Sol
I discovered this gem one evening after leaving a meeting in Gringolandia and having a taste for ice cream. An online search for “ice cream near me” directed me to Helú, located in the small Plaza del Sol mall at Ricardo Darquea Granda 450, just south of the Tomebamba River, one block south of the Los Cedros bridge. The ice cream at Helú became one of my favorites, for its exceptionally smooth and creamy flavor.
Hennessey, the employee on duty at my most recent visit, explained that their ice cream is made right on-site (she pointed to the ice cream maker machines behind the counter) from all-natural ingredients. There were at least 16 flavors to choose from on my visit, including such specialties as fig cheesecake, Snickers, brownie, pistachio, and Chicle; as well as French vanilla, chocolate and Andean fruit flavors like limón and mango. I love a combination of vanilla and red fruits, so I went with the ‘frutas del bosque.’
Where to find Helú
- Address: Ricardo Darquea Granda
Fruitilados – upscale seating, fruity flavors and more
Fruitilados flagship location at 4-53 Av. Remigio Crespo Toral between Miguel Diaz and Ricardo Muñoz Davila, is an attractive sit-down dessert restaurant with a wide selection of ice creams. I opted for a double-scoop cone of orange and vanilla ice cream (evoking memories of the Dreamsicles of my youth). It proved to be a very satisfying choice. The orange was tart and juicy, and the vanilla was my favorite in Cuenca so far – offering what to my palate was a perfect blend of vanilla flavoring and creaminess.
Where to find Fruitilados
- Flagship Location: 4-53 Av. Remigio Crespo Toral
- Other location: Miraflores Mall, near the Cuenca airport
- Order for delivery at their link http://bit.ly.com/Frutilados
Vivaldi – home-based ice cream maker with U.S. flavors
For those who miss foods and flavors from North America that are not commonly found in Ecuador, they can often find their favorite foods from entrepreneurs creating these delicacies at home and delivering them to their customers. Carlos Páez, who moved to Ecuador from Venezuela five years ago and has been living in Cuenca for four years, came up with the idea to create North American ice cream flavors at home during the pandemic. His home-based business uses ingredients from North America to recreate the tastes of the Northern Hemisphere. He explains that his vanilla is made with extract from the US and Mexico, because Ecuadorian ice cream makers use a different mix of ingredients.
He also offers a “Mexican Horchata” flavor that recreates the flavor of that drink which may be known to Americans from the many Mexican restaurants of the US. Carlos noted that the Ecuadorian drink called horchata is a tea that has no relation to the Mexican drink made of ground rice, milk and cinnamon. I found Vivaldi’s ice cream version of Mexican horchata to be a faithful and tasty version of that drink.
Other specialties Páez offers include sugar-free and vegan ice creams and a series of flavors based on baked goods – Apple Pie, Strawberry Pie, Cherry Pie, Red Velvet Cake, and Brownie. I tried the Strawberry Pie and its combination of vanilla ice cream, fresh strawberries, and graham cracker crust to be a real treat.
Check out his Instagram for photos of his products. Sugar-free chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and coffee flavors are available.
How to contact Vivaldi
I first discovered Vivaldi Ice Cream at one of the frequent ferias at which local artisans exhibit. He can be reached at
- Email: [email protected]
- WhatsApp +593 96 254 6303.
You can pick up your order at his home or have it delivered within Cuenca for a small delivery fee.
Special Treats in Unexpected Places
Paccari Chocolate Shop – gourmet chocolate flavor in an ice cream cone
Paccari is a small chocolate shop and café at Paucarbamba 470-488 and Luis Moreno Mora in the El Vergel neighborhood. In addition to their selection of chocolate bars and candies, they offer 8 or 10 flavors of ice cream, including a sugar-free chocolate that has the dark chocolate flavor you might expect from a gourmet chocolate.
Where to find Pacarri
Though Paccari offers outdoor seating, you enter the café and store through the doorway to the ceramic store next door.
La Pizza del Juanja – the ice cream called “crack” is as addictive as its name suggests
Not far from Paccari is La Pizza del Juanja – a pizzeria with a selection of ten ice creams on the menu. With names like “Poción de Amor” (Love Potion) – rose-colored ice cream with chunks of pistachio – and “Chunkolate,” they sound intriguing, but we had to try the one called “El Crack.” It’s an ice cream of salted caramel and caramelized salted chunks of chocolate that became the highlight of my tasting trips. It’s rich and flavorful and I can hardly wait to get back there (the restaurant is at Rafael Torres Beltran y Francisco Estrella Carrion just west of Paucarbamba) to have some more. To be fair, in reviewing my notes for this article, I see that a number of the shop I visited offer salted caramel so there may be some competition for “El Crack.”
Where to find La Pizza del Juanja
Not “Just” Ice Cream
Ice cream is the focus of this article so you should know most have created their own special concoctions of ice cream and additional ingredients, fancy-looking creations with syrup, fruit, cookies, etc. with names like “Amore” and “Caprichosa” and their special versions of Banana splits and even cocktails. These are the fancy, colorful presentations that cause you to say “I wish I had ordered that” as they sail by on the waiter’s tray. Ecuadorians have fallen in love with these special ice cream variations and you might too.
I also recommend you check out the tantalizing variety of cakes and pastries that can be ordered instead of or to accompany the ice creams. The word “pasteleria” in the trade names or over their doors is a good indicator of the availability inside. Tutto Freddo, Frutilados and Monte Bianco and others have wonderfully creative options like torta chocolate mojado (wet chocolate cake), traditional cakes, viennese style pastries, brownies, etc.
Eat Your Own Way Through This Ice Cream Wonderland
As I said at the top of this article, this is not a “ten best” list, and my apologies to those who weren’t mentioned. What I find remarkable though, is while I began with a list of recommendations from colleagues, as I got further into my research, new possibilities kept appearing. Some were my own favorites – others were recommended by others and others I just stumbled upon while looking for the recommended places.
This all suggests there are many more ice cream makers and shops offering wonderful “helados” to discover. This article is finished, but the quest for the best ice creams in Cuenca continues. We’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments below or in our Cuenca Facebook Group.