San Francisco's Top Five Ice Cream Shops

Categories: Top Five

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Albert Law
​We are no longer seven years old. We need to get that out of the way early when discussing San Francisco's Top Five Ice Cream Shops.

Here's what that means: We don't care about toppings, mix-ins, family-friendly furniture or specials on your birthday. We don't even care about waffle cones. All we care about -- the ONLY standard we're using for this Top Five -- is the ice cream itself. How delicious is it? How interesting? Is it really worth a special trip, even on a chilly summer day? The answer to that last question for these five is a clear "Oh yeah!"

You might protest, "But my son is seven." When he's old enough to read this publication, we'll tell him where to go for ice cream (and our music and arts editors want to speak to him, too). In the meantime, here's where we recommend for you.

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​1. Humphry Slocombe: As much as we love Jake Godby's ice cream, we can't honestly say it's always the best in town. He has big hits and a few misses, with more of the latter than our other choices. It's not safe ice cream.

However, Humphry Slocombe is hands down the most interesting ice cream shop in San Francisco and arguably in the entire country, given how much national press he's gotten. Or maybe even the world: this writer did a story on the place for a magazine in Japan.

Not only that, the line is manageable, even on the rare warm days that are perfect for ice cream, and even though the shop's cheerful employees will give you a taste of any flavor, or even every flavor.

We've seen many people ask for a taste of some of the exotic stuff like Salt and Pepper or the intense Balsamic Caramel, both personal favorites, and then get a scoop of something more ordinary like Black Walnut. That's a big part of the shop's appeal: You can taste the wild side and then go back to your vanilla life if you must. But once you've had Salted Licorice, it's hard to go back (though we will, later on this list.)

We love the ice cream at all five of these places, but Humphry Slocombe is the sort of only-in-San-Francisco joint we treasure. There's so much more to this place than Secret Breakfast.

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36 comments
David Oliver
David Oliver

Yeah, Michells is def in the top 5, no wild flavors but the product is amazing and twice the butterfat :)

Lynda Bay
Lynda Bay

Oh! Thanks for this post! Good thing I dropped to this one. I'm heading to San Francisco this weekend and I wouldn't miss the chance to drop by these parlors. -------------- Want an ice cream business? click here for more information.

Lucy Hill
Lucy Hill

Oh I miss ice cream. :) Thanks for sharing.

San Francisco Music
San Francisco Music

In a fantastic city that has a lot of different dining andcuisine to offer all taste spuds you can ensure that your can be found here.

Jackie
Jackie

WHAT?!? Why is Mitchell's not on this list??! I am going to have to check out these other places but am a bit disappointed that Mitchell's did not make the cut...crazy if you ask me!! May be worth trying new places though even though I highly support my favorite SF ice cream parlor on this foodie list > http://www.skinnyscoop.com/lis...

Best Happy Hour San Francisco
Best Happy Hour San Francisco

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Best Happy Hour San Francisco
Best Happy Hour San Francisco

Planning a trip to any beachdestination of the world is a great idea to spend your summer. From an emptywhite sand to beautiful shells you can collect all are memories you can cherishrest of your life. A story to tell to your young ones later on. That life isbeautiful only if you search for the best. They are all out there waiting to berecognize. While the sun sets at the back of the mountains and the blue skiesslowly turn into orange, fading on its natural way our happiness at the end ofthe day is a price money can't buy. And after some hours later the sun willrise again  shines all over the cities, spreading a new morning a newbeginning.

Best Happy Hour San Francisco
Best Happy Hour San Francisco

Planning a trip to any beachdestination of the world is a great idea to spend your summer. From an emptywhite sand to beautiful shells you can collect all are memories you can cherishrest of your life. A story to tell to your young ones later on. That life isbeautiful only if you search for the best. They are all out there waiting to berecognize. While the sun sets at the back of the mountains and the blue skiesslowly turn into orange, fading on its natural way our happiness at the end ofthe day is a price money can't buy. And after some hours later the sun willrise again  shines all over the cities, spreading a new morning a newbeginning.

Sheryl
Sheryl

Three Twins seriously deserves to top this list! They are so poorly underrepresented in the foodie scene! Every single flavour I've had from them has been outstanding, unlike hit-or-miss Humphrey and Bi-Rite. They're not as experimental (yet?), but they do go for intense flavours: Dad's Cardamom and Lemon Cookie are my faves. Aaaand now I have to go buy some. When I move away from this city, I am going to miss Three Twins more than anything.

Otherwise, I love Humphrey's beer flavours (especially in Four Barrel's affogato), and Xanath has a lovely Chocolate Walnut.

IBIDIBID
IBIDIBID

Thanks for the review, but WHERE ARE THEY LOCATED?

flippityfloppity
flippityfloppity

While I like thyme-limoncello-snozberry-teriyaki ice cream as much as the next person, Mitchell's should be on this list.

sfmarko
sfmarko

no mitchell's eh?  that's ridiculous!

SF Ice Cream Lover
SF Ice Cream Lover

This is all Frou Frou crap. Two years from now, none of these places will be in business anymore. Mitchell's is real ice cream, and an enduring business.

Windy
Windy

Great to see Delise on this list, as it is too often forgotten. Delise and Mr and Mrs are the only ones that get texture right. HS has an occasional hit but many misses.

And agreed, Mitchell's is a big omission. Sorry they aren't cool enough to include.

jason b
jason b

what a joke of a list. jasper slowbrush is #3 at best, not only due to a complete lack of humor sense but because of the miss flavors. xanath sounds like a waste, one good flavor? mitchells has always and will always be #1. it was in 1958, and after all these fads have come and gone, through another few gelato and froyo hype clouds, mitchells will still be there, loved and at the top of the stack, decades after these "top" five creameries have perished.

Sarah L.
Sarah L.

Humphrey Slocombe is seriously the grossest ice cream I've ever had. It feels like eating ice cream cooked in bacon fat - the greasy sensation is seriously nasty. Can't imagine a reason to go back there.

Zuzu2000
Zuzu2000

Lemon buttermilk from Mr. & Mrs. Misc. is perhaps the best ice cream I've ever had. I think Humphry Slocombe's product is top notch, but the attitude there is ridiculous. I'm not sure what happened to Bi-Rite.Their ice cream has gotten so sweet, almost unpalatable. Used to LOVE the salted caramel, but can't choke it down anymore. Recently tried strawberry, which was ok, but really lacked subtlety. Almost seems like they are adding msg to the mix.

Bab3y_c
Bab3y_c

I'm happy to see there are some vegan options in the list. Great article! Nice to see some newcomers.

Guest
Guest

MITCHELLS didnt make this list?

Bob
Bob

I'd agree for the most part, except I get so peeved that Mr. & Mrs. Misc are only open till 6pm. Really? C'mon guys. We know you have a family and do limited production, but take a loan, hire someone and increase production / hours. The best time to eat ice cream is AFTER dinner and now that Serpentine has got their act together and the new Piccino is rocking, you're doing a disservice.

dariamilan
dariamilan

missing three twins, marco polo on this list. xanath should not be on the list and hipster slocumbes is insanely overrated. the servers who are all wonderful artists I am sure can not scoop the ice cream to stay in the cones, they even tell you this to get you to get it in a cup. WTF?

K and A Alesandrini
K and A Alesandrini

Best ice cream review article we've read. Thanks for respecting our adult palettes, not being taken in by every ice cream place that calls itself artisan or is a 'neighborhood institution,' and for caring about vanilla as well as jesus juice.

When other people write about ice cream, it usually boils down to "yay, ice cream!" Thanks for writing for those of us who are beyond that in our levels of ice cream appreciation.

Joe
Joe

A couple of these I haven't tried and now will.

You're right about Slocombe. Highest marks for innovation. Quality is uneven. Godby should just stop with the sorbets; they're gummy and generally not like sorbets at all.

A lot of other places make better salted caramel than Bi-Rite these days. The last time I was at Bi-Rite, the caramel was severely burned and almost inedible. Too busy to maintain their quality?

I go to Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous for their incredible chocolate chip cookie! 

And I agree with others that Mitchell's should be on this list. You really can't get better mango or Mexican chocolate ice cream anywhere else.

Bruce
Bruce

Ugh. No Three Twins? I've walked from Bi-Rite's front door to Three Twins for better ice cream. At least give Three Twins the nod over Xanath. 

Guest
Guest

I find that Mr & Mrs Miscellaneous actually do the best caramel - better than Bi-Rite's, but it is a Burnt Caramel rather than a salted one.I love BiRite's mint choc chip.

Lance Walker
Lance Walker

Agree and have had 3 of these (Bi-Rite, Humphry, and Mr. and Mrs.)  It's hard to rule out Mitchells though.  They are more on the old-school side yes, but also come up with some pretty innovative flavors too.

Footloose-78
Footloose-78

what about the newly popular smitten in hayes valley??

W Blake Gray
W Blake Gray

Thank you! I can no longer say reviewing ice cream is a thankless task ... seriously, glad you enjoyed it.

Fourthtwin
Fourthtwin

Three Twins FTW. One word: cardamom.

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