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Five Best Ice Cream Parlors San Francisco 2004 -

Pralines and Cream ... Chubby Hubby ... Blackberry Sorbet ... French Vanilla ... Chocolate Fudge Brownie ... Mint Chip ... Blueberry Cheesecake ... Chocolate Caramel Crackle ... these are a few of our favorite things. Especially on a hot spring afternoon when the sun's out and the stuff drips all over our fingers. But let's face it: We love ice cream when the fog's blasting through the Avenues; we love it when the skies are leaden and the breeze is brisk; we love it on a rainy, cold January afternoon. Here are some of the best places to find it, year round.

Swenson's
1999 Hyde (at Union), 775-6818

Swenson's has been freezing and scooping its own homey, unpretentious, high-quality ice creams from the same intersection for over half a century, and the reasons for its longevity are absolutely edible. Its bountiful cones have a wonderfully creamy consistency (even the low-fat stuff), and you can see them being enjoyed by strolling locals for blocks around. The Wild Mountain Blackberry is bright and luscious and the Lemon Custard is sweet, tart, and very rich, but the Caramel Pecan Turtle is our enduring favorite, chunky with nuts and ribboned with buttery caramel and dark, decadent fudge. Thirty flavors available in cup, cone, float, shake, and sundae form.

Tango Gelato
2015 Fillmore (at Pine), 346-3692, www.tangogelato.com

American gelato isn't quite so narcotic as the stuff in the old country, but the gelato at Tango comes dangerously close. (The name of the place comes from the shop's owner and its gelato-maker, both natives of Buenos Aires, a city with a large Italian community.) It's thick and chewy, this gelato, just like in Firenze, and 27 flavors are made each day on the premises. The giandiua -- milky chocolate ribboned with hazelnuts and a touch of Nutella -- is especially dreamy; other favorites include a simple, sublime essence of coconut; stracciatella with chunks of bittersweet chocolate; and the fresh, wild flavor of the raspberry sorbetto. The shop's elegant cafe setting is the perfect venue in which to enjoy these exquisite confections.

Bombay Ice Creamery
552 Valencia (at 16th Street), 431-1103

Sampling one of Bombay's house-made kulfi is like enjoying the spices and shadings of Indian cuisine in frozen form. Concocted out of reduced milk rather than cream, kulfi has a dense gelatolike texture and an entire palette of exotic flavors to go with it. One delicious, bright-yellow example features the striking yet complementary flavors of rose and saffron; another flavor, cardamom, is spicy, fragrant, lively, and lush all at once. Ginger, kesar, litchi, pistachio, fig, chiku, cashew, and coconut are among the other varieties served and savored in the venue's amiable, worn-linoleum setting. Strawberry Cheesecake, Rocky Road, Marble Fudge, and Tutti Frutti are available as well, but when in Bombay ....

Cold Mine
663 Union (at Columbus), 398-2653

The coldest trend in ice cream today is this very show-bizzy deal where you choose a topping as well as an ice cream and then you watch while the counterman squashes 'em together on a slab of marble. Depending on the combination you come up with, the result can be unique, delicious, or maybe even both. It's hard to go wrong at Cold Mine because the countermen start with Mitchell's ice cream (see below), and their toppings are inventive and wide-ranging. Our favorite experiments to date have involved chopping macaroons into Mexican chocolate and combining coffee ice cream with chocolate brownies. (The peanut butter cup/orange sherbet venture was a fiasco, however.) Other toppings include Butterfingers, Heath bars, animal crackers, and Guittard's espresso chips, and coconut, banana, and vanilla bean are among their available consorts. Go crazy.

Mitchell's Ice Cream
688 San Jose (at 29th Street), 648-2300, www.mitchellsicecream.com

This friendly destination for Bay Area ice cream lovers whips up 40 varieties of light, creamy, gold-standard sweet stuff right on the premises. Open since 1953, Mitchell's is famous for its myriad culinary exotica, including ice creams flavored with langka, macapuno, ube, buko, guava, mango, and avocado (all of them imported from the Philippines by Larry Mitchell himself), but equally memorable is the dense and delicious Chicago cheesecake, the only-in-summertime peach, and the absolutely intoxicating rum raisin. Cakes, shakes, sodas, sundaes, and slushes, too.

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