Restaurant: Mario’s Italian Lemonade
Last visited: June 15, 2012
Location: Chicago, IL (Little Italy)
Address: 1068 W Taylor Street
Transit: Taylor & Aberdeen
Where I stayed: Hyatt Regency Chicago (Taxi recommended)
Price Range: $10 or less
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Since 1954
- Italian family owned
- Popular for Italian Ice
- Seasonal flavours
- Fresh fruit flavours
- Very busy on hot days
- Snowballs/snow cone shop
- Snack shop
- Seeds/nut snacks
- No hot food
- Local favourite
- Family friendly
- Dairy free friendly
- Egg free friendly
- Gluten free friendly
- Budget friendly/cheap eats
- Opens seasonally
- Opens lunch until late
**Recommendations: Italian Lemonade Ice drinks especially Lemonade and Watermelon Lemonade flavours
It looks like the concession stand at an elementary school playground, but this is indeed a grown up lemonade stand. It offers nuts and seeds for snacking, “snowballs” (which I think are similar to snow cones), and last but not least, their ever so famous Italian Lemonade or “Italian Ice”. Thank goodness it was open too because they operate only during the warmer months. Mario’s Italian Lemonade is a local favourite and it’s enjoyed equally amongst children and adults.
My friend actually recommended it and it wasn’t on the original Follow Me Foodie to Chicago itinerary, but when she told me how loved it was and how good it was supposed to be, I was determined to try it. It was conveniently located across the street from Al’s #1 Italian Beef, or I should say the other way around because I came to Little Italy with the intentions of trying Mario’s Italian Lemonade stand first.
I had just come from Pizano’s deep dish pizza and the best goat tacos in Chicago from Birrieria Zaragoza’s, and an icy cold Italian lemonade sounded perfect. It was even better after my #1 Italian Beef sandwich and the only way to balance my sodium intake of the day was to wash it down with a sugary drink. This really wasn’t that sugary though since it was made with fresh fruit and it is a water based drink.
I’m actually surprised there was only one of these and I’m even more surprised that I’ve never tried an Italian Lemonade or “Italian Ice” until this day. There didn’t appear to be any competition for it in Chicago let alone in Little Italy, but the concept was so simple and it seemed so easy to replicate. I’m crossing my fingers for one to open in Vancouver, BC (my home town) one day because I think it would be well received. But until then, I will reminisce and share the love via this blog post.
On the table:
- Jumbo $6.50 X-Large $4.50 Large $3.50 Medium $1.50 (2 flavours) Small $1 (1 flavour)
- It had “perfect on a hot summer’s day” written all over it.
- They offered about 15 seasonal fruit flavours and they’re super cheap so you feel like a king ordering a bunch.
- The drink is called “Italian Lemonade” or “Italian Ice” and it’s a frozen dessert or drink made with fresh or artificial fruit juices and concentrates.
- Mario’s Italian Lemonade apparently sets a benchmark for fantastic Italian Ices and it’s mainly because he uses fresh fruit.
- It was basically a fresh fruit slurpee or slushy.
- It was incredibly refreshing, light and less sweet than a typical slurpee and not artificial tasting.
- It wasn’t like a snow cone or granita because the ice was completely smooth and not crunchy so you’re not biting into ice crystals.
- I actually wouldn’t consider it a dessert because they’re really not that sweet and they are water, simple sugar and fresh fruit based.
- They tasted all natural but there are still added sugars and perhaps flavourings (depending on flavour), but the fresh fruit aspect is apparent.
- It wasn’t syrupy and the colours also looked natural with no obvious food colourings. I loved it!
- They were really simple, but for what they were they were excellent and I can see why people love them so much.
**Watermelon Italian Ice - 6/6 (FMF Must Try!) - I liked this flavour the best and not only because watermelon is delicious, but it stood out amongst the others and had the strongest natural fruit flavour. The seeds are intentionally left in there to show that it is in fact fresh fruit. There were actual chunks of semi-frozen watermelon bits throughout which just topped things off too. It tasted naturally sweetened like frozen watermelon purée. Watermelon is already so refreshing and in this context it was even more so.
**Lemonade Italian Ice - 5/6 (Excellent) - It’s their most popular flavour. The lemonade ice was underneath the watermelon ice and there were big chunks of fresh lemon skins in it. It was just the peel and not the pith so it wasn’t that bitter. Again the peels are intentional to show the freshness of the fruit. It was tart, but not sour or too sweet and just very pure, natural and refreshing. It tasted less tart, sweet and lemony than most frozen lemonades.
Coconut Italian Ice - 4/6 (Very good) – There was shredded dried coconut throughout and it would have been amazing with fresh coconut pieces, but for $1.50 I didn’t expect it and was happy with the dried coconut flakes already. It wasn’t creamy with coconut milk and they used either coconut flavouring or coconut water. I could tell it was coconut especially with the flakes, but it wasn’t that strong with coconut flavour.
Pineapple Italian Ice – 4/6 (Very good) - It was under the coconut ice and I think it’s also how they make their pina colada flavour. There were little pieces of semi-frozen pineapple bits in it, but they were too small for me to tell if they were canned or fresh. It was tart and sweet and tasted like pineapples without the artificial flavouring, but it could be canned and I would think it would be. Again for $1.50 fresh pineapple would be a bonus.
Tutti Frutti (Fruit Cocktail) Italian Lemonade Ice – 4/6 (Very good) – This was a seasonal special and it had lemon peels, red grapes and I think orange in it. I feel like it was just the leftover fruit flavours mixed together, which is what fruit cocktail is anyway. I ended up combining the last sips of all the ones I ordered and it ended up tasting just like this.
Also don’t forget to check out Al’s #1 Italian Beef right across the street for a sandwich first!