If you find yourself screaming for ice cream in San Francisco, head to one of the local creameries — you’ll discover innovative flavors and crafty creations. Below are our favorite places for scoops around the city.
Mitchell’s Ice Cream
A family-owned establishment in the Mission District, Mitchell’s was opened in 1953 by two brothers, the younger of whom still owns the business. There’s no frills here, just delicious small-batch ice cream. What makes Mitchell’s ice cream so rich and creamy is the high butterfat content — at 16 percent, it’s higher than most commercial ice creams. It offers 40 flavors daily with seasonal specials, such as peach in the summer and eggnog in the winter. However, the most popular scoop is mango. The Mitchell brothers were the first to make the delicious flavor in the Bay Area, and it was an instant classic that’s as beloved today as it was when it first launched in the late ’60s.
Three Twins Ice Cream
You may have seen the green Three Twins containers in the freezer section of your Whole Foods, but if you have the chance to pop into one of the four scoop shops — especially the Lower Haight location — take it. At the Lower Haight outpost, you’ll be greeted by Blake, the gregarious scoop master who says he is “making dreams come true scooping ice cream.” Three Twins’ wildly wonderful ice cream is 100 percent organic and made with milk that’s sourced within 17 miles of the North Bay factory. Sea salted caramel is the most-ordered flavor, while lemon cookie, a sweet-tart sensation with vanilla sandwich cookies mixed into the zesty ice cream, is a personal favorite. One percent of all of Three Twins sales are donated to land preservation, so you can feel good as you indulge in what founder Neal Gottlieb refers to as “the next great American ice cream brand.”
The Ice Cream Bar
If an old-school ice cream parlor with superb sandwiches, tiled floors and a soda fountain is what you’re looking for, then head to this spot in Cole Valley. You’ll feel as if you have stepped back in time: The staff wears cheerful white soda jerk hats while scooping out throwback flavors such as banana pudding and butterscotch. The culinary team makes everything from the bread that’s used in the sweet-and-spicy pulled pork sandwiches to the root beer that’s poured into the decadent fizzy vanilla floats. The Ice Cream Bar also offers a selection of boozy ice cream treats. Who knew that Flemish red ale, aged sherry and morello cherry ice cream could be combined to make one insanely good milkshake? The menu is sprinkled with terms you may not recognize, such as “phosphates” and “lactarts,” but the friendly fountain staff is quick to explain.
With a line that frequently wraps around the block, Bi-Rite Creamery has a cult-like following. Luckily, there are two places in San Francisco where you can find the finger-licking-good ice cream: the original shop in the Mission and its new location on Divisadero Street. Bi-Rite’s ice cream is all-organic, made with Straus Family Creamery milk and usually includes no more than five ingredients. Among the seasonal offerings, try the exceptional balsamic-strawberry flavor. One of the most popular picks, it is only available in the spring and summer, when local strawberries are in season. Anything else that Bi-Rite Creamery uses in its ice cream, or the baked goods that are served alongside (think sugar cones and marshmallows), are made in house.
For a more avant-garde ice cream experience, head to Humphry Slocombe’s new storefront at the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. It specializes in intensely flavorful and unexpected varieties with inventive names such as Harvey Milk and Honey, a milk-flavored ice cream with pieces of housemade blackberry-honey graham crackers, and I Have A Dreamsicle, orange sorbet swirled with crème fraîche ice cream — a taste brings back memories of your childhood in the best way possible. But Humphry Slocombe is most famous for its Secret Breakfast, a bourbon-infused scoop with chunks of Corn Flake cookies; it’s such a crowd-pleaser that the shop goes through about a case and a half of bourbon per week.
Photos Courtesy of Paul Dyer and Nick Vasilopoulos