Just in time for Halloween, who’s got the pumpkin-iest scoops in town? Unlike, say, pumpkin-spice lattes–where the operative word is spice, not pumpkin, as in “the spices, like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, that one would typically use to flavor a pumpkin dessert, rather than the pumpkin itself”–pumpkin ice cream is the real deal, getting its golden, autumnal glow and earthy-sweet seasonal charm from actual pumpkin. Because if you think about it, pureed squash in your coffee, ick, but in your ice cream, oh yes.

Maple Brown Sugar Squash, Smitten Ice Cream. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum
Maple Brown Sugar Squash, Smitten Ice Cream. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

Smitten Ice Cream

Before we tasted it, the frozen-to-order used by Smitten Ice Cream sounded like a high-tech gimmick. Would a sci-fi blast of liquid nitrogen really make better ice cream? But then we strolled down to the shipping-container-turned-sweet-shop in Hayes Valley and ordered up a scoop of Maple Brown Sugar Squash. A hefty spoonful of squash puree, a slug of creamy housemade ice cream base, a sudden burst of chilly, Karl-like fog, and here was our winner, hands down: lusciously smooth, richly flavored but perfectly balanced, like the best pumpkin pie you’ve ever eaten, only better, and glazed with a maple-lemon syrup. But get it now–come November, it will be replaced by Cinnamon Apple Crisp.

Smitten chalkboard. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum
Smitten chalkboard. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

Smitten counter. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum
Smitten counter. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

Smitten Ice Cream Address: [map] 432 Octavia St, #1A (at Linden St) San Francisco, CA 94102 Ph: (415) 863-1518 Hours: Mon-Thu 12pm – 10 pm Fri 12pm – 10:30 pm Sat 11:30am – 10:30pm Sun 11:30am – 10pm Facebook: Smitten Ice Cream Twitter: @SmittenIceCream

Mitchell's Pumpkin cone. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum
Mitchell’s Pumpkin cone. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

Mitchell’s

Once Smitten’s squash has disappeared for the season, restore your necessary pumpkin joy at Mitchell’s, which offers one of the longest-running Pumpkin ice cream experiences in the city. It’s still the gold standard: creamy and full-flavored, with just the right hint of natural earthy sweetness (and nutmeg). It’s a fall/winter mainstay at this 60-year-old neighborhood hangout, since it’s always warmer (and sunnier) in the Mission, and perfect in a double scoop with their cinnamon-y Mexican Chocolate.

Mitchell's storefront. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum
Mitchell’s storefront. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

Mitchell’s Address: [map] 688 San Jose Ave. (at 29th St) San Francisco, CA 94110 Ph: (415) 648-2300 Hours: Mon-Sun 11am – 11 pm Facebook: Mitchell’s Ice Cream Twitter: @MitchellsIceCre

Bi-Rite Creamery's Pumpkin Soft-Serve. Photo: Jessie Rogers
Bi-Rite Creamery’s Pumpkin Soft-Serve. Photo: Jessie Rogers

Bi-Rite Creamery

For something a little different, the mid-October arrival of Bi-Rite Creamery’s Pumpkin Soft-Serve (Fridays only, paired with tangy Creme Fraiche) is always cause for seasonal celebration. The soft-serve window (which also sells popsicles, ice-cream sandwiches, cookies, and often, a very delicious hot chocolate) is the best-kept secret of the Bi-Rite universe. There’s almost never a line, even while the queue at the Creamery nearby stretches to new-iPhone-release-day proportions. (The main Creamery is also offering a stellar regular pumpkin ice cream right now.) The texture is just right for Dairy Queen/Foster’s Freeze nostalgia, but the two daily flavors on offer–like peanut butter and roasted banana, salted caramel and coffee, even plain old vanilla and chocolate–are much, much better. According to the staff, customers go nuts for this flavor, calling every day in early October to find out when it will be back on the menu. But familiarity breeds ennui, and sometime in January, it will have slipped away, quietly, until autumn returns some ten months later.

Happy Bi-Rite team member holding Bi-Rite Creamery's Pumpkin Soft-Serve. Photo: Jessie Rogers
Happy Bi-Rite team member holding Bi-Rite Creamery’s Pumpkin Soft-Serve. Photo: Jessie Rogers

Bi-Rite Creamery Address: [map] 3692 18th St (between Dolores and Guerrero Sts) San Francisco, CA 94110 Ph: (415) 648-2300 Hours: Mon-Fri 3pm – 9 pm Sat-Sun 1pm – 9 pm Facebook: Bi-Rite Creamery Twitter: @BiRiteSF

Ici's Wrapped Pumpkin-Gingersnap Ice Cream Sandwich. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum
Ici’s Wrapped Pumpkin-Gingersnap Ice Cream Sandwich. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

Ici

The short list of flavors at Elmwood’s pretty little Ici shifts every day, but this month, Pumpkin is the popular kid. Lightly, mildly pumpkin-y, with bright spicing, you can try it in a hand-held gingersnap ice cream sandwich, or pair a scoop with another autumn-toasty flavor, like the brunch-worthy, pancake-ready Maple-Candied Bacon or the potent, nightcap-y Chicory Whiskey. (Note: Ici will be closed on Oct 31.)

Ici's Pumpkin-Gingersnap Ice Cream Sandwich. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum
Ici’s Pumpkin-Gingersnap Ice Cream Sandwich. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

Ici exterior. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum
Ici exterior. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

Ici Address: [map] 2948 College Ave (between Ashby Ave and Russell St) Berkeley, CA 94705 Ph: (510) 665-6054 Hours: Mon-Thu 12pm – 9:30 pm Fri 12pm – 10 pm Sat-Sun 11am – 10 pm Facebook: Ici Ice Cream Twitter: @IciIceCream

Chow

But what if it’s chilly and windy outside, and you’d like to sit down and wrap your hands around a steaming mug of coffee while you anticipate your ice cream’s arrival? Whether it’s February or August, April or November, Ginger Cake with Pumpkin Ice Cream is always on the dessert menu at the cozy, tavern-like Chow. But this moist, molasses-y, noir-dark cake and its creamy pumpkin sidekick tastes best when the Halloween pumpkins are glowing. Not close to the Castro? The restaurant has additional locations in Danville, Lafayette, and San Francisco’s Inner Sunset.

Chow Address: [map] 215 Church St (between Market and 15 Sts) San Francisco, CA 94114 Ph: (415) 552-2469 Hours: Sun-Thu 8am – 11pm Fri-Sat 8am – 12am

Who’s got your favorite pumpkin ice cream? Let us know in the comments!

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Author

Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen

Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen is a longtime local food writer, author, and cook. Her books include The Art of Vintage Cocktails (Egg & Dart Press), World of Doughnuts (Egg & Dart Press); Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Food (Williams Sonoma); Honey from Flower to Table (Chronicle Books) and The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love (Manic D Press). She has studied organic farming at UCSC and holds a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She does frequent cooking demonstrations at local farmers’ markets and has taught food writing at Media Alliance in San Francisco and the Continuing Education program at Stanford University. She has been the lead restaurant critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian as well as for San Francisco magazine. She has been an assistant chef at the Headlands Center for the Arts, an artists' residency program located in the Marin Headlands, and a production cook at the Marin Sun Farms Cafe in Pt Reyes Station. After some 20 years in San Francisco interspersed with stints in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, she recently moved to Sonoma county but still writes in San Francisco several days a week.

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