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Refreshingly Unhip: The Best Vanilla Ice Cream in SF

Vanilla at JJ in the Inner Sunset.

Salted Caramel, chewy gelato and Kelvins aside, there's something to be said for the straight-talking scoop of vanilla ice cream. Humphry Slocombe, Mr & Mrs. Miscellaneous and friends make great company, don't get me wrong. But the hip stuff comes with cumbersome price tags and stamina-bending lines, hence this humble quest. Last week I assembled a list of the uncoolest ice cream spots I could find—none of them in the Mission or the Marina. Then I drove around with a cooler in tow and asked for one scoop of hard-packed vanilla ice cream from each one.  Nearly every single scooper responded with a surprised "will that be all?" and a googly "what's wrong with this woman" stare. Apparently ordering vanilla ice cream is uncool even at the uncool ice cream places. But some of these naive scoops are worth your time. Let's break it down with some unscientific ratings. 

 

 

1) Bud's of San Francisco at JJ Ice Cream, 1152 Irving St. (Inner Sunset)

Consistency: Evenly creamy. Not as heavy as Mitchell's.

Melt Factor: A slow, uniform softening.

Taste: The most interesting, punch-in-your-face vanilla flavor of all. A little musk up front and a round mouth feel.

2) Mitchell's Ice Cream @ Miyako, 1470 Fillmore St. (Lower Fillmore)

Consistency: The creamiest of all. Mouth-coating richness. 

Melt Factor: Becomes uniformly gooier. Almost like taffy. 

Taste: Nice cooked cream taste. A soft musky vanilla middle. Mellow, sweet finish.

3) Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream, 1447 Taraval St. (Parkside) 

Consistency: Silky, smooth, less dense than Mitchell's and JJ

Melt Factor: An inconsistent melt into a watery soup around the edges. 

Taste: Lots of bright, vanilla bean flavor up front.

4) Swensen's, 1999 Hyde St. (Russian Hill)

Consistency: Soft, yet resilient. A little cakey.

Melt Factor: A solid, nice even melt.

Taste: Full bodied. French Vanilla has an eggy richness. Plain Vanilla lacks interest.

5) Joe's Ice Cream, 5420 Geary Blvd. (The Richmond)

Consistency: Soft, yet solid

Meltability: Even

Taste: Not much more than a slight hint of cake batter. No depth.

6) Polly Ann Ice Cream, 3138 Noriega St. (Outer Sunset)

Consistency: Milky, silky and light. Ice crystals from freezer burn.

Meltability: A seeping, uneven melt. 

Taste: The French Vanilla was almost wine-like. Vanilla Bean was one dimensional. Regular Vanilla was very sweet with a musky finish. All of them were a little freezer burned. 

 

Overall winner:
JJ
. There are a lot of adventurous ice cream flavors out there—like ube and avocado—so vanilla is always going to be a tough sell. But for purists seeking a true vanilla experience, JJ's bright flavor won by a hare over hot competitor Mitchell's.

Runner-up:
Mitchell's @ Miyako
. A rich, creamy bite that melts into a delightfully taffy-like consistency. Service here was, by far, the friendliest. And Miyako gets points for almost 30 years of history on Fillmore St.

 

Like another vanilla? Let us know in the comments.