Where you can find the best scoop in the loop

Sprinkles or M&Ms? One scoop or two? Cup or cone? These are tough questions, and even though we’ve got global problems on our minds these days, dessert is still important. Good ice cream can make the world a little more manageable.

Here in Houston, we’re lucky to have ice cream weather year-round, and we’ve got a great selection of ice cream parlors to allow you to develop a primo scoop rotation.

So, where should you scoot in the loop to get the best scoop?

Ranking ice cream shops in Houston

I visited over 30 ice cream shops in Houston, ranking each one on a 3-scoop scale. Some spots were off the charts and have earned a coveted “3 scoops with a cherry on top” score. We’ve collated this data into an interactive map to help Houstonians endure these hellaciously hot months.

Scoop in the Loop is here to point you toward the best ice cream in Houston. All that’s left for you to decide is: cup or cone?

Ice cream brought joy to the early days of the pandemic

Early in the pandemic, when other people went though sourdough obsessions, I fixated on ice cream. A friend and I would meet every Monday (and most Tuesdays, and sometimes Fridays) and bike to a new ice cream shop. With our lives disrupted by the pandemic, getting outside, spinning our legs, catching up, and eating ice cream together brought back some much needed routine and joy.

shannon and gisele smiling with bike helmets, sunglasses, and ice cream scoop in the loop

The pursuit of ice cream brought smiles to our faces in the doldrums of the pandemic

Eventually, we had covered nearly every shop in the inner loop. We were bastions of ice cream knowledge, and our friends were constantly asking us for recommendations. We realized this information could be valuable to a larger audience.

Building an interactive ice cream map of Houston

Cue the January Advisors Data Viz Working Group. This group meets biweekly to learn best practices in data visualization and test new skills with fun side projects. Together, we conceptualized and created this tool.

The first thing that came to mind was an interactive map. But the power of Scoop in the Loop is really in the details. Filters for Scoop Score and local ownership let users customize for their preferences. Bike lanes are a nod to the origins of Scoop in the Loop, and help users plan a pleasant bike or walking route to their next scoop. My favorite features are the map pins: custom drawn ice cream cones with towering scoops casting shadows over the city.

Which neighborhoods have the most scoops?

Hosting 11 of the 30 shops we rated, plus two of the three “3 scoops with a cherry on top” super stores, the Heights is undeniably THE leader in Houston ice cream.

Montrose and West University follow the Heights, with 5 stores each.

screenshot of scoop in the loop showing Houston Heights, dolce neve

Austin-based Dolce Neve is one of 11 shops in the Houston Heights, and one of only 3 shops earning the coveted “3 scoops with a cherry on top” score

How the scoop scale works

My scoring method is totally subjective and not reproducible. For ice cream, I abandon my analytical tendencies, and focus on how the ice cream makes me feel.

I didn’t standardize by sampling a generic flavor at each place. It might be more objective to order a scoop of plain vanilla at each shop. But flavors like matcha mascarpone, banana and cheese, and cacio e pepe are just too tempting. Plus, I firmly believe a shop’s innovation should be celebrated and factored into its score! Shops with inventive flavors always scored high for me. If you’ve been out of the ice cream world for a while, you may be pleasantly surprised by your flavor options: savory, floral, and boozy flavors are commonplace at many shops today.

Generally, the scoop scale works like this:

  • 1 scoop: a bit meh for ice cream
  • 2 scoops: yum
  • 3 scoops: exceptional
  • 3 scoops with a cherry on top: transcendental

One last data standardization faux pas: I didn’t score shops right after visiting. I’ll confess, months passed from when I visited most shops until I decided to score them all and make this app. Still, I stand by my scores because the best shops will stick in your memory and demand repeat visits!

How can you contribute to Scoop in the Loop?

I highly encourage y’all to use the Scoop in the Loop to discover your new favorite shop!

I also think you should bike there. It makes the most of the childhood joy and nostalgia that ice cream brings. Houston has biking weather year-round, and the growing bike infrastructure network gets you close to each of these ice cream shops. Toggle on the bikeways layer of the map to plan your route to your next scoop!

There are certainly scoops in the loop we’ve missed – some may be hard to access by bike, new, or off our radar entirely. To suggest a new scoop, or dispute a scoop score, please fill out this form or email me. Happy scooping!

photo of a hand holding an ice cream cone in front of a neon sign

Hank’s Ice Cream Parlour is a favorite of both me and Beyonce

Shannon Carter

Shannon is a data scientist at January Advisors. You can follow her on Twitter @shan_k_carter