Finding the Best Ice Cream in Portland

Here at The Post, we have a long history of stories titled “The Best [insert food item here] in Portland.” It’s a time-honored tradition because sometimes you don’t want to write an in-depth story on some social or political issue. Sometimes you just want to stuff your face with food and call it a story. After last month, when I wrote two very tiring stories about the presidential debates, I found myself in that exact position. So I called up my friend Jack to go around the city with me and eat a bunch of ice cream.

There were four problems: First, Jack is lactose intolerant and would not be able to eat any of the ice cream. This was actually not a problem, as I found it very funny. Jack found it less funny, but I don’t care what he thinks. Second, because I wanted to be thorough in my story, and because I wanted to eat a lot of ice cream, my list of ice cream shops ended up being very long: ten places, spread across every quarter of the city. It would be a lot of ice cream, but I would manage it. Third, it was a very rainy November, not ideal for ice cream consumption. There was only a single day that wasn’t forecasted to be pouring rain, so I’d have to go down the entire list in one day. Fourth, I didn’t take into account that my friend is an obsessive workaholic who tortures himself with way too many hard classes, so Jack had to cancel at the last second to finish his homework. No matter, though, as I would text him throughout the day to ask his opinion on all the ice cream I was having. With all my problems solved perfectly, I set out at noon for a long day of ice cream tasting.

Cloud City, SE 45th and Woodstock

I arrived at Cloud City right as they were opening for the day. From the outside, it looks like the exact shop you imagine when the words “ice cream shop” are spoken, so I was expecting it to taste fairly standard. I ordered a scoop of dark chocolate salted caramel ice cream in a waffle cone (that’s basically my taste in ice cream. The chocolatier the better, with peanut butter or caramel if they’re available, and always in a waffle cone), and I was pleasantly surprised. The chocolate tasted great, and though I could only faintly taste the caramel, the salt did wonders for the taste. I don’t know if the waffle cone was freshly made, but it tasted freshly made, which is all that really matters. There are no special gimmicks to Cloud City, but they do ice cream and they do it well. I’d definitely recommend Cloud City if you find yourself on Woodstock. But what does Jack think?

Salt and Straw, SE 33rd and Division

This wasn’t my first run-in with Salt and Straw. I go there regularly, both because it’s the closest to my house and because it’s the absolute best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. I ordered a scoop of chocolate gooey brownie in a waffle cone, then sat on a bench outside as the taste of the ice cream lifted me into heaven. Remember how I praised the salt in the ice cream I got at Cloud City? The salt in the ice cream is half of this place’s namesake, and it is so good. The waffle cone was just as good. They make them in-house, and you can smell the aroma drifting down the street as you approach the shop. Salt and Straw is the most transcendent ice cream experience I’ve ever had. If I were to marry an ice cream cone, I would marry this one.

Eb and Bean, SE 30th and Division.

Just a few blocks down from Salt and Straw is Eb and Bean. It’s actually a frozen yogurt place, but it’s basically the same. After two chocolate ice cream cones in a row, I decided to change it up a bit, so I got vanilla (in a waffle cone, of course). I usually think vanilla ice cream doesn’t have much taste, but the vanilla was actually surprisingly strong here. This was the only soft-serve place on the list, so the frozen yogurt had a lighter texture than the rest, which set it apart. The cone tasted more like a cookie than a waffle cone, which was confusing, but it tasted good so I can’t complain. If you’re in the mood for some frozen yogurt, Eb and Bean is solid, but I’d personally just walk three more blocks to Salt and Straw. If you want a second opinion, it started raining as I was eating it, so Eb and Bean is Mother Nature’s least favorite on this list.

Fifty Licks, E 28th and Burnside

By the time I got to Fifty Licks, the rain was pouring down. Unpleasant, sure. Logistically challenging for eating ice cream, sure. Was it gonna stop me on my quest? Never. I ordered a scoop of “Chocolate AF,” which I’m pretty sure I remember being called “Chocolate as $!%&” at some point, which was a better name but probably harder to order. They gave it to me with the cone faced down in a bowl, which was odd. I tasted it, and… yep. It was definitely Chocolate AF. The chocolate flavor was the richest and darkest I’d ever tasted in ice cream, possibly even to a fault. I prefer the creamier taste of other ice creams, although I guess it was my fault for ordering a flavor called “Chocolate AF.” It was good, just not what I was expecting. If you want a second opinion, the rain cleared up and a rainbow came out while I was eating it, so Fifty Licks is Mother Nature’s favorite on this list.

Staccato Gelato, NE 28th and Everett

This location is only 2 blocks north of Fifty Licks, so the employees probably saw me finishing an ice cream cone before I went inside to order another ice cream cone. They didn’t say anything, but I know what they were thinking. I ordered cookies and cream in a waffle cone. I think Jack summed up my thoughts on Staccato Gelato perfectly. “It’s fine.” The colorful branding and furniture make Staccato Gelato stand out, but other than that, you’d get about the same level of quality from store-bought ice cream. Or gelato. Whatever, I don’t care enough to know the difference.

Ruby Jewel, SW 12th and Washington

Ruby Jewel is famous for its ice cream sandwiches, which I didn’t know until I got there because I made this list by searching “ice cream” on Google Maps and writing down what came up. I ordered a “fresh mint jewel,” which in English is “mint ice cream between two chocolate cookies, dipped in chocolate.” When I bit into it, I was stunned for a second at how minty it was. Granted, it’s called a “fresh mint jewel,” but still, this thing was minty. Ruby Jewel isn’t really comparable to the other places on this list, since eating an ice cream sandwich is a markedly different experience from eating an ice cream cone (unlike frozen yogurt and gelato, which are just ice cream that wants to feel special, yes this is a hill that I will die on), but still, Ruby Jewel tastes great and gets a solid recommendation from me. I don’t know if it gets a solid recommendation from Jack, since he was too busy doing schoolwork or something to answer my DM.

22 Below, SW 18th and Jefferson

I had a hard time finding 22 Below. It’s a bit hard to see from the street, and Google Maps kept leading me to the United Methodist Church down the road. The sun started to set, and I was about to review the United Methodist Church, but luckily I was able to find the shop. There were a bunch of weird flavors, including stuff like green tea, passionfruit, and lavender, but I got “PB Twist,” which was peanut butter, chocolate, and salted caramel, because I’m boring. It turns out they sell rolled ice cream, which I hadn’t previously heard of. Apparently it’s a Thai thing. Basically, the guy puts the ingredients in a cold pan, does a bunch of magic with two scrapes, and suddenly you’re handed a few bits of ice cream in the shape of rolls. It was mesmerizing and a bit confusing, but oh my god, this was some of the best ice cream I’d ever tasted. I’m guessing it’s because the ice cream was freshly made right in front of me, but it tasted so vibrant, and I was so amazed, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it was better than Salt and Straw. I know I’ve already pledged to marry Salt and Straw, but if I were to have an extramarital affair with a bowl of ice cream, it would be with 22 Below.

Salt and Straw, NW 23rd and Kearney

I know what you’re thinking. “Haven’t you already been to Salt and Straw?” Yes, yes I have, but it had another location on my path, and as I have previously stated, Salt and Straw is amazing, the (second) best ice cream I’ve ever tasted, and my ice cream fiance. I got salted caramel this time, in a waffle cone of course. My tongue met Salt and Straw for the first time in five long hours, and it was just as good as I remembered it being—no— better. While chocolate gooey brownie is my favorite, any of the flavors are enough to remind me that Salt and Straw will always be my one true ice cream love (Please nobody tell it about the brief fling I had with 22 Below).

Alotto Gelato, NW 23rd and Lovejoy

Alotto Gelato was closed. Zero out of ten.

Cool Moon, NW 11th and Johnson

The sun was fully set at this point, and I was almost at the end of my journey. After six long and difficult hours of leisurely walking around the city and eating ice cream, there were only two places left, just a block apart from each other: Cool Moon and Little Chickpea. I went to Cool Moon first and ordered Mint Chip ice cream in a waffle cone. I’m glad I did Cool Moon first, because this would be some incredibly anticlimactic ice cream to end on. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it was nothing special. The ice cream was fine, the cone was fine, everything was fine. You’d get about the same experience with store-bought ice cream. If you find yourself in the Pearl District and are craving some ice cream, go for it, but it doesn’t stack up to the rest of the ice cream on this list.

Little Chickpea, NW 13th and Johnson

At long last, I was at the end of my journey. I was at the last place on my list: Little Chickpea. This place sold ice cream made from Chickpeas, which is a very Portlandy idea. Basically, they wanted to make ice cream that’s healthy and which anyone can eat, regardless of dietary restrictions. Everything is made of chickpeas, so no matter if you’re vegan, have a nut allergy, have a gluten allergy, lactose intolerant, or anything else, you can eat this ice cream.

Wait— lactose intolerant…

I got Jack to come down to Little Chickpea. Finally, after buzzing around my friend’s head like a fly for the entire day, demanding opinions on ice cream he couldn’t possibly taste, we were finally together in the flesh, and we were ready to taste some ice cream. We both ordered a scoop of triple chocolate in a waffle cone, then stepped outside to eat. As we ate, I told him about everything I had gone through that day. The pouring rain and the rainbow, the magic man with the scrapes at 22 Below, my profession of, doubt of, and reaffirmation of love for Salt and Straw. It had been a long day, but in the end, you could say that the best ice cream is the one you share with a friend.

Well, you could say that, but you’d be wrong, because Little Chickpea sucks. It tastes off when you lick it, and leaves a distinctly non-ice cream aftertaste. It’s an interesting idea with a noble mission, but chickpea ice cream just doesn’t taste like ice cream, and it just doesn’t taste good. The cone was even worse. It was chewy and tasted like chickpeas. I felt like I was biting into a room temperature chickpea. If I wanted to bite into a room temperature chickpea, I would bite into a room temperature chickpea. Little Chickpea was the only ice cream cone I had to throw away without finishing, because I just couldn’t bear to keep eating it. Jack liked it, but I don’t care what he thinks.

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