San Francisco: Bay Area Icon with Exceptional Flavors at Bi-Rite Creamery
Friday, January 11, 2013

Judging from the length of the line on a Saturday, Bi-Rite Creamery might be the most popular Ice Cream Parlor in the world. The SCOOP! Blog team easily waited thirty minutes in line to get a taste of Bi-Rite's ethereal Salted Caramel Ice Cream - and it's worth it. When Bi-Rite masters a flavor, few places can compete. This shop specializes in perfectly balancing its flavors, consistently generating smiling customers.

Today the line was short: it didn't even wrap around the block

Located just steps away from San Francisco's fabled Dolores Park, locals and tourists alike flock to this Ice Cream Mecca, an offshoot of the popular Bi-Rite Market, located across the street. What they find is a shop committed to using locally sourced, all-natural ingredients, featuring Strauss Family Creamery's organic milk. Given the shop's central location and its knack for perfecting bold, balanced flavors that are often unique, but that don't stray too far from the familiar, it is not surprising that this shop's popularity has exploded since it was founded in 2006.

Salted Caramel: Bi-Rite's Crowning Achievement

And if Bi-Rite is San Francisco's most popular ice cream shop, its Salted Caramel flavor is easily San Francisco's most well-known ice cream. It is difficult to find a person in the city who has not tried this near-mythical flavor. And does it live up to the Hype? Yes. This flavor is pure bliss - a 10. But not all flavors at Bi-Rite can compete with this level of perfection. Although Bi-Rite has few, if any, misses, many of its flavors are simply uninspired. Traditional flavors rendered well, but not exceptionally so, are not uncommon at the shop. On any given day, be prepared to find two or three brilliant flavors, with a dozen other flavors that you could probably safely skip for another shop. Our recommendation is to try either the Salted Caramel or the Brown Sugar with Caramel Ginger Swirl on your first visit. And when you visit, try to make it a weekday - not much later than opening time. If you plan your visit carefully, you might not have to wait at all. A few hints can also help you beat line times. A little known fact is that you can walk right into Bi-Rite and buy pints of ice cream, skipping the entire line. Also, there's a much shorter line at the soft-serve window a few feet down from the main entrance. If you're not in the mood for soft-serve, the side-window also sells Bi-Rite's delectable ice cream sandwiches, which use Bi-Rite's most famous ice cream flavors, like Salted Caramel and Roasted Banana. Those ice cream sandwiches are addictive!

And one more thing: if you are not sold on your first visit, consider trying it again. In addition to having many flavors that are just "ok", Bi-Rite also suffers from serious inconsistency in quality. We found over the course of a half dozen visits that sometimes flavors were beautifully rendered, with perfect texture. Other times, our ice cream was plagued by significant ice crystals.

Flavor Tasting Notes


The flavors at Bi-Rite change every day, but expect to find favorites like Salted Caramel all the time

Salted Caramel

The one and only. As far as we are concerned, this is the best Salted Caramel ice cream in the US. Deep, balanced caramel note. Flavor of caramel is layered, with complex, creme-brulee shell flavor. Perfectly creamy texture without a rough edge in sight. It's interesting to compare this flavor to Toscanini's Burnt Caramel, which takes a more burnt, savory angle on this flavor.

Brown Sugar with Caramel Ginger Swirl

This ice cream had the best texture of any ice cream we reviewed at Bi-Rite. Prominent burnt brown sugar flavor, with a balanced ginger note that complements the brown sugar but does not overpower. After a few bites, the ginger fades into the background of the flavor profile.

Meyer Lemon

Nuanced authentic lemon flavor, like biting into a lemon chiffon cake. Excellent, dense texture, with smooth mouthfeel.

Olive Oil

A bit overly sweet, and doesn't really taste too much like olive oil. A touch of graininess. This flavor could learn a thing or two from Salt and Straw or Humphry Slocombe's version of this ice cream.

Cookies and Cream

Perfect cream texture, with a base that tastes like whipped vanilla cream. A tad over-sweet. Cookies are well-integrated.

Pumpkin

Cloyingly sweet. Good density, but texture is grainy. There is a prominent Pumpkin flavor in this ice cream, but the nuances are not very well-developed.

Mint Chip

The mint base used here is not particularly unique or memorable. Although Bi-Rite prides itself on using the simplest of ingredients, I would guess they use an oil in this ice cream, rather than actual fresh mint (or if they do use fresh mint, the character doesn't really come through). The chocolate "chips" (really, shavings) are well-integrated and seamlessly blend into the texture as it melts in your mouth. The texture of the base is uninspired - it melts quickly and has no noticeable texture.

Eggnog Brandy

Authentic Brandy flavor with standard eggnog taste. The creaminess of this ice cream is extraordinary, though the ice cream itself would be drastically improved if a little denser.

8
Final Score: 8/10

Bi-Rite Creamery

3692 18th Street San Francisco, CA