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A hand holds up a white styrofoam cup filled with yellow Italian ice in front of a blue sky with white clouds and strings of red, green, and white flags.
The heroic concoction the people deserve.
Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

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Chicago's Italian Ice Stands Melt Away the Summertime Blues

Legends like Miko's, Ava's, Carl's, Ferros, and Mario's give locals of all ages a refreshing blast of nostalgia

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.

A crowd of around 15 people stand on the sidewalk outside a white, red, and green stand with a sign that reads “Mario’s Italian Lemonade.”
Mario’s is arguably Chicago’s best-known Italian ice stand.

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.

A person in a white shirt digs red Italian ice out of a styrofoam up with a plastic spoon.
An ice cream cooler filled with buckets of Italian ice in different colors.
A sign hangs inside an Italian ice shop listing the flavors of ice available.

Most Italian ice flavors are fruit based.

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.

A line of people stand in a parking lot under a red-and-white striped tent leading to a restaurant takeout window.
A hand holds a white styrofoam cup of red and yellow Italian ice in front of a colorful wall mural.
Two walk-up windows inside a building with a neon sign that reads “Ava’s Italian Ice, Home of the Flight.”
Two men sit at a red picnic table outside a red brick building with a sign that reads “Carm’s.”

North and South siders alike love Italian ice.

People sit on benches while talking and eating Italian ice outside Miko’s Italian Ice stand.
Chicagoans know summer is at its sweetest and stickiest with an Italian ice in hand.
A line of people in a parking lot under a red-and-white striped tent that leads to a restaurant walk-up window.
A plastic spoon sticks out of a white styrofoam cup of bright yellow Italian ice on a green picnic table.
A black billboard sign on a rooftop reads “Ferro’s Pride of the Southside HomeMade Italian Lemonade.”

Waiting in line builds anticipation.

A green sign reads “Today’s Flavors” and lists flavors of Italian ice.
Many vendors switch up their offerings from day to day.
A hand holds a white styrofoam cup filled with red and yellow Italian ice against a colorful wall mural.
Four men sit at picnic tables outside a red brick building on a street corner.
Three women stand outside a walk-up window  Italian ice stand with a sign that reads “Mario’s Italian Lemonade.”
Italian ice stands are among the many hospitality businesses struggling with staffing shortages.
A white styrofoam cup of white Italian ice sits on the ground in front of a colorful wall mural.
Chunky or creamy, there’s an Italian ice for everyone.
A small, crowded green room with many hanging glass lamps and a Miko’s t-shirt on a hanger.
Indoor space is tight at Miko’s, which like most Italian ice vendors, does most business streetside.
Two small kids holding cups of Italian ice walk down the sidewalk with an adult woman.

Miko's Italian Ice (Logan Square)

2236 North Sacramento Avenue, , IL 60647 (773) 645-9664 Visit Website

Ava's Italian Ice

1814 North Western Avenue, , IL 60647

Mario's Italian Lemonade

1068 West Taylor Street, , IL 60607

Miko's Italian Ice

2236 N Sacramento Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (773) 645-9664 Visit Website
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