Chicagoans over the past two years have largely let go of the concept of a “normal” — that is, pre-pandemic — summer, last seen in 2019 when PPE was just for hospital staff and restaurant menus with QR codes were an oddity. But the warmest months of 2022 are bearing a marked resemblance to earlier times, with locals of all ages streaming into the streets to bask in some badly needed sunshine and savor one of the city’s favorite cooling treats: Italian ice.
Italian ice isn’t fancy, but it demands a few basic components: sugar, frozen water, and whole fruits or juice. It’s offered in a variety of flavors, ranging from mango and watermelon to chocolate and horchata, but lemon reigns supreme as the most nostalgic and common version, also dubbed an Italian lemonade.
Despite the adherence to tradition, Italian ice vendors across the city have applied their own approaches to the iconic cups of icy sweetness to set themselves apart from the crowd. Some, like 68-year-old institution Mario’s Italian Lemonade in Little Italy, blend pulp, seeds, and even peels into their mixtures — it’s not uncommon for Mario’s patrons to find chunks of fruit in their servings. Others achieve a creamier texture by straining out much of the fruit. Presentation is another opportunity for patrons to stand out: Ava’s Italian Ice in Bucktown, for example, sells its ice in flights, allowing buyers to try multiple flavors.
Chicago is home to a wealth of Italian ice vendors, every residents seems to have their favorite. Eater Chicago visited five of the city's most popular vendors: Mario’s and Ava’s, Miko’s Italian Ice in Logan Square (there’s another outpost in Irving Park), 93-year-old Carm's Beef and Italian Ice in Little Italy, and South Side staple Ferro’s Italian Sandwiches. Explore the scenes at these five treasures in the photographs below.