San Francisco may lack steamy summer weather, but that doesn’t mean we love summer sweet treats any less—especially when it comes to soft-serve ice cream topped with seasonal fruit, pickled plums and whole sesame seeds. In fact, demand for the frozen delight explains why even high-end restaurants are jumping on the soft-serve bandwagon, with many spots introducing their own creative takes on the summertime staple. Here is what’s spiraling out of soft-serve machines—and exciting our inner kid—at four SF newcomers.
This spot has been a powerhouse from day one: a fantastic restaurant, bar, ice creamery, bakery and coffeeshop, all in one airy Mission space with a backdrop of massive ovens and the aroma of baking bread. But it’s the ice cream corner that’s the real highlight of the multifaceted operation, which, during daytime hours, turns out ice cream pies and silky soft-serve made from water buffalo milk. Unique, rotating flavors like herb de latte—made using seasonal fresh herbs—or the unforgettable Tartine country loaf might make this a daily stop. Diet be damned. 595 Alabama St (415-757-0007, tartinemanufactory.com)
Alta at Minnesota Street Project
Daniel Patterson’s new Alta, in the multipurpose Minnesota Street Project, brings the renowned chef’s legendary homemade soft-serve to the sunny Dogpatch. Pastry chef Nick Muncy (formerly of COI) crafts a menu of changing sundaes—strawberry shortcake with poppy-seed cake or a chocolate banana sundae over banana bread with smoked peanuts—alongside house-made soft-serve in more traditional flavors like chocolate, vanilla and swirl. 1275 Minnesota St (415-243-0825, altaca.co)
Rich Table—from husband-wife team Evan and Sarah Rich—has been one of SF’s best restaurants since it opened in 2013, and its more casual, counter-service little sibling, RT Rotisserie, arrived after great anticipation this summer. While the new operation is centered around a large red Rotisol rotisserie, it’s Sarah’s desserts that have us coming back for more. Starting with basic soft-serve flavors like buttermilk ice cream or a fruity sorbet, she incorporates seasonal ingredients (think stone fruit or fresh strawberries) to make each option exceptional. For a spin on milk-and-cookies order buttermilk soft-serve with a salted mint chocolate chip cookie. An instant classic. 101 Oak St (415-355-9085, rtrotisserie.com)
Former Akiko’s chef Adam Tortosa is back at the brand-new Robin, a trendy omakase and sushi restaurant focusing on farmers’-market–driven dishes and in-season fish and boasting a hip-hop soundtrack. The menu’s dessert section features rotating soft-serve flavors made with traditional Japanese ingredients: Fresh ume—Tortosa makes his own umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums)—is presented over green-tea soft-serve drizzled in EVOO, while the sake-lees soft-serve (lees are the solids that remain after alcohol ferments) is topped with cara cara orange granita and pistachios. Future flavors, like white sesame with roasted strawberries and black pepper, are already in the works! 620 Gough St (robinsanfrancisco.com)