Here in the Bay Area, we’re lucky to be able to eat ice cream and other frozen treats year-round. But summer is always a good excuse (as if you needed one) to try a new frozen dessert spot. Here are some of our favorites.
Always Aloha Shave Ice Co. Track down one of Always Aloha Shave Ice’s pop-ups for a taste of Hawaiian shave ice that’s just as good as the real thing, if not better. Owner Stephanie Iwasaki grew up eating shave ice in O’ahu. After moving to San Francisco, she craved the flavors of her childhood and started Always Aloha Shave Ice Co. in 2018. Customers can watch as the ice is freshly shaved and gently patted into a snowball for a light, airy texture. The flavor combinations, which are all made with real, fresh fruit, are outside the box and completely delicious. Recent flavors have included passion orange guava (known as POG in Hawaii), a stunning half-and-half combo of lychee-mint and strawberry, and pineapple Calpico. Each shave ice creation comes with flavor-specific toppings like toasted coconut, fresh strawberries, condensed milk “snow cap,” mochi, and li hing (salted plum) powder. For a small upcharge, I like to order the shave ice stuffed with vanilla ice cream. Follow @alwaysalohashaveiceco on Instagram or visit its Facebook page for upcoming pop-up dates and locations. Various pop-up locations.
Nieves Cinco De Mayo. On warm afternoons, you’ll almost always find a line at Nieves Cinco de Mayo’s tiny storefront in the Fruitvale Public Market — and with good reason. There’s a broad variety of handmade frozen treats you won’t find anywhere else. There’s good old ice cream, of course, available in classic flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. The ice cream is less creamy than most ice cream shops’, which only makes it all the more refreshing. There are also more uncommon flavors, too, like corn, guava, rose, mamey (a tropical fruit with notes of chocolate and pumpkin), rompope (rum raisin), leche quemada (curdled milk with cinnamon) and leche quemada (burnt milk). On a particularly hot day, I often go for the raspados, or snow cones, made with homemade syrups like jamaica, vanilla, tamarind, lime, and guava. But one of the most popular choices is the mangonada, a layered treat of mango sorbet and shaved ice topped with chunks of fresh mango, drizzled with chamoy and chili powder, and served with a tamarind candy straw. 3340 E 12th St., Suite 2, Oakland.
UC Dessert. This sit-down dessert parlor in Chinatown’s Pacific Renaissance Plaza offers a plethora of Hong Kong-style desserts. The chilled dessert soups are especially welcome on a hot day. I particularly love the mango pomelo sago, which consists of a base of chilled pureéd mango full of sago (similar to tiny tapioca pearls) and tart, refreshing pomelo for balance. Other solid options include a Hong Kong egg waffle rolled into a cone, filled with your choice of ice cream and topped with fresh fruit. 388 Ninth St., Suite 159, Oakland.
UJI Time Dessert. For an ice cream cone that looks as good as it tastes (amazing), head to UJI Time for a taiyaki (fish-shaped) soft serve cone. These cones are a scaled-up version of the traditional Japanese taiyaki, which are fish-shaped pancakes typically stuffed with red beans. The super-sized fish can be filled with your choice of tofu, black sesame, or matcha soft serve. Seasonal flavors are also available. Pick one or swirl two flavors together. You can even get a deluxe version with toppings like Pocky sticks, a tiny skewer of mochi, or a miniature taiyaki for double the taiyaki goodness. Spoiler alert: when you get to the bottom of the taiyaki cone, there’s a tasty red bean filling for an extra sweet ending. 2575 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley.
Secret Scoop Thai Gelato. This petite shop offers a wide array of Thai ice cream flavors like chocolate lemongrass, pumpkin pandan, roasted coconut, salted tamarind sorbet, and jackfruit-jasmine sorbet. Too hard to pick just one or two flavors? Go for the mini palette, which allows customers to choose four small scoops of gelato accompanied by a scoop of green pandan sticky rice and toppings of your choice like coconut flakes, mango, or lychee jelly. For maximum pandan flavor, get your palette in a pandan waffle cone. 1922 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Suite B, Berkeley.
Cookiebar Creamery. The ice cream at Cookiebar Creamery is rich and creamy, like many other ice cream shops — but it strays from the pack ever so slightly, in the best ways possible. The flavors here are unique, yet close enough to the classics that they evoke nostalgia with every bite. Cookies and cream ice cream gets a twist with the banana oreo flavor; Vietnamese coffee offers a change of pace over regular coffee ice cream; and mint chip gets an upgrade with the 1606, which substitutes the chips for Oreos, housemade cookies ‘n’ cream cookies, and fudge. Tea lovers can enjoy a range of tea flavors, from matcha white chocolate to Thai tea to jasmine milk tea, while cereal aficionados can choose from flavors like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Fruity Pebbles. There are also Asian-inspired flavors like ube (purple yam), macapuno (young coconut), toasted black sesame, and calamansi sorbet. 647 Central Ave., Alameda, and 517 Eighth St., Oakland.