It may be officially fall in Los Angeles, but like every good Angeleno or visitor of this sunshine city may know, the heat never really goes away. The nights might get nippier, but it will never be too cold to enjoy the simple pleasure of good soft-serve ice cream.
Soft-serve ice cream was forgotten somewhere between frozen yogurt trends and the new wave of ingredient-driven ice cream shops popping up in Los Angeles recently. But the smooth and soft aerated ice cream that got its start in the 1940s never really went away to begin with. Here is a list to catch up with everyone's favorite nostalgic frozen treat, including traditional and some new-school chef interpretations too.
Manhattan Beach Post
Chef David Lefevre takes a hyper-seasonal approach to his soft-serve, changing his flavor as often as once every two to three weeks. On one visit, his salty butter pecan soft-serve with crumbly rosemary cookies and bourbon glazed toasted pecans left us swooning. But on another, his orange creamsicle flavor with guava jelly and coconut cookies did the exact same. Seeing how it's officially pumpkin season, don't be too surprised if you find a spiced pumpkin soft-serve with toasted marshmallow cream and buttery graham cracker streusel on your next visit.
1142 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach, (310) 545-5405, eatmbpost.com
The Spice Table
Leave it to chef Bryant Ng to elevate the humble soft-serve with the musky and floral flavors of a Thai iced tea. Though this soft-serve tastes way better than any Thai iced tea you've ever had thanks to the layers of flavoring that Ng applies to it. He grinds two different types of black tea leaves and steeps it in Strauss Organic Family Creamery cream. Then he strains the tea but leaves some of it in the mix for texture and a slightly tannic flavor that cuts through the cream nicely. If you think you taste some hints of pandan and lemongrass in there, it's because he adds a little of that too. The final product is aromatic and not too sweet.
114 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 620-1840, thespicetable.com.
Bob's Freeze is an East Los Angeles soft-serve institution. Specifically to the students of the neighboring Garfield High School and their parents, and the parents of their parents; it's been open since 1946. Current owner Sook Oh has seen three generations of her customers grow up. She purchased Bob's Freeze in 1986 but didn't change it much. You can still find Bob's signature banana sundae and "Suicide" ice slushes (a crushed ice slush where a squirt of each available flavor is mixed into one cup). You can't go wrong with one of Bob's chocolate-dipped cones, a vanilla-flavored soft-serve ice cream swirled high in a cake cone that is then dipped in melted chocolate that quickly turns solidly crisp.
5144 E. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 263-6659.
The vegan soft-serve "frozato" is a sleeper hit at this Atwater Village taco house catering to eaters of all belief systems. Their house-made base for it is soy and nuts, making it both exceptionally rich and creamy to rival some of the best full-fat dairy swirls in town. It is available in both a bean-flecked vanilla flavor, bitter chocolate flavor or a swirl of the two; we recommend the latter, and in the flaky sugar cone.
3300 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village, (323) 664-9400, www.hugostacos.com.
Hamada Ya Bread Bar & Coffee
Consider this a public announcement to the few, the proud, the lovers of green-tea flavored sweets: Hamada Ya in the West L.A. Mitsuwa Marketplace food court serves a noteworthy floral green tea soft-serve ice cream, and you can get it topped with a scoop of sweetened red beans and chewy chopped rice mochi pieces. To replicate the crunch of an ice cream cone, the staff curiously adds a handful of Golden Grahams to the plastic boat before swirling your Japanese American soft-serve high. It makes an excellent dessert if dining on supermarket sushi or a perfect pre-shopping snack as you shop for your ponzu, Japanese rice and any other obscure ingredients.
3760 S. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles.