Top 10 Ice Cream Shops in the Bay AreaBy Virginia Miller
July 28, 2014
There's no end to incredible ice cream in the Bay Area. You'll find countless restaurants that craft exciting in-house flavors on their menus, made-to-order nitrogen-powered ice cream stops like Smitten, organic gems like Tara's in the East Bay and beloved classics such as Joe's Ice Cream, Swenson's, Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream and Oakland's Fenton's Creamery, which just celebrated its 120th anniversary this July. While we would be happy to eat ice cream from all of these spots until the end of days, here are the 10 best, from San Francisco to Oakland.
Some of the most visionary ice cream spots in the U.S., Humphry Slocombe spawned imitators and garnered national food press just weeks after opening in the Mission in 2008 — due in no small part to its famous Secret Breakfast bourbon and cornflakes ice cream. Flavors are ever-changing and sometimes totally off-the-wall. Thankfully, their ice cream is now available at a Ferry Building brick-and-mortar, as well as by the pint in local shops like Haight Street Market.
Must-Order: Secret Breakfast or Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee are the classics that stay on offer year-round. Most other flavors change.
Go Crazy!: We jump for joy whenever we see our favorite flavor: Peanut Butter Curry.
2790A Harrison St. and 1 Ferry Building
The Ice Cream Bar [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]
Phosphates, lactarts, malts and alcoholic milkshakes — our favorite part of this historically accurate spot, which takes its inspiration from the soda-fountain techniques and recipes of the 19th century, is the soda fountain. But we're in love with the ice cream too.
Must-Order: Morello cherry ice cream has been on offer since the early days and for good reason. It tastes of pure, tart, lush cherries. We also love the New Orleans Hangover float mixing chicory coffee syrup, soda and ice cream.
Go Crazy!: The vegan ice cream is truly wow-inducing — and we're dairy lovers. Coconut milk makes the icy sorbet creamy, while flecks of dark chocolate and almonds impart salty-sweet texture. A favorite lactart is the Stalk in the Park combining celery seed extract with cream, lactart, soda, celery and mint.
815 Cole St.
Since 1953, Mitchell's has been drawing the crowds to the Outer Mission for its classic, housemade ice cream — and its still one of our great food lover's treasures.
Must-Order: The Mexican chocolate is iconic, as are the holiday flavors. No one does a better peppermint or eggnog ice cream — and we wait all year for the fall/winter offering of Cinnamon Snap, cinnamon ice cream laced with gingersnap cookies.
Go Crazy!: Their South American and Filipino flavors have been a neighborhood specialty for decades: try Peruvian lucuma, Filipino coconut or bright purple ube (purple Filipino yams).
688 San Jose Ave.
Just follow the line to one of the most popular ice cream spots in America. Locals know to grab a pint at Bi-Rite Market across the street or a scoop or pint from shorter lines at the second location of Bi-Rite on Divis.
Must-Order: They put Salted Caramel on the national map, spawning countless imitators when they first opened, but we equally love the soft, floral honey lavender and the fact that all ice creams use organic dairy from nearby Straus Family Creamery.
Go Crazy!: Our top choice is ricanelas, a cinnamon ice cream with snickerdoodle cookies, but the summer calls for the glory of peach ice cream featuring perfect Masumoto Family Farm peaches.
5) Three Twins
Founded as a "one-man-show" in 2005, Three Twins has now spread its wings across the country with its organic line of Bay Area-made ice creams, available in countless grocery stores and markets, including the newer organic ice cream sandwiches. Locally, Three Twins has shops in the Lower Haight, Fisherman's Wharf, Larkspur and SFO.
Must-Order: Lemon Cookie is a crowd-pleaser and one of our faves. It's soft and creamy with sizeable sandwich cookie chunks.
Go Crazy!: Dad's Cardamom, with its intense shock of cardamom, is the one we crave.
254 Fillmore St., 79 Jefferson St. and available at many grocery stores and markets
Humphry Solcombe's new Ferry Building shop [Photo Source: Douglas Zimmerman]
This nondescript storefront on a the stretch of Fisherman's Wharf where locals walk — yes, there is such a thing — churns out some of the best East-meets-West pastries from a former fine-dining pastry chef. Surprisingly, there are also some exciting Asia-influenced ice creams.
Must-Order: Flavors change constantly but the toasted sesame is a dream, as is Triple Threat made with pumpkin, pumpkin ale and pumpkin-seed brittle.
Go Crazy!: Watch for vegan sorbets like lemongrass pina colada or coconut pandan and Asian ice cream flavors like toasted rice or moon cake.
327 Bay St.
Founded by the adorable husband-and-wife team of Annabelle Topacio and Ian Flores, this slice of an ice cream shop in the Dogpatch spews out constantly changing flavors, so watch the Facebook page for the latest. It's become a neighborhood favorite for forward-thinking and classic flavors with a gourmet touch.
Must-Order: Creamy olive oil is a top pick, as is mint cookie or peanut butter.
Go Crazy!: Watch for unique options like Candied Violet or a take on the Pink Squirrel cocktail: crème de noyaux (almond crème liqueur), crème de cacao and heavy cream.
699 22nd St.
8) Lush Gelato
With two East Bay locations, Lush Gelato makes flavors mostly utilizing organic ingredients from local farms.
Must-Order: If they've made a fresh batch, don't miss fascinating flavors showing local cheesemakers: Cowgirl Creamery fromage blanc or Bellwether Farms ricotta and lemon zest ice creams.
Go Crazy!: Watch for unusual flavors like cilantro-salted chocolate chips or Point Reyes blue cheese and cranberries.
4184 Piedmont Ave., Oakland; 1511 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
Pricey though it may be, Ici is Berkeley's most elegant ice cream shop, serving picture-perfect ice cream sandwiches and lush flavors to continual crowds.
Must-Order: If in-house, grab the candied lemon peel ice cream sandwiches built with gingersnap cookies.
Go Crazy!: Watch for specials like nectarine habanero sorbet or Earl Grey ice cream.
2948 College Ave., Berkeley
Way out in the Sunset since 1950, Polly Ann has been urging customers to spin its giant wheel if they are undecided on what to choose from the 50 changing options.
Must-Order: We can't resist the lush nuttiness of black sesame ice cream.
Go Crazy!: There are a range of Asian flavors from litchi to what some dub "stinky" durian ice cream.
3138 Noriega St.
Fenton's Creamery sundae [Photo Source: http://eurydice.smugmug.com/fentons]