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Ridiculously Good Soft Serve Ice Cream in NYC

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When I was maybe ten years old, I asked my dad what it felt like to be a grown up. He considered it, and then said something to the effect of, “You feel the same inside, you’re just taller.” It both relieved and disturbed me at the time, and still does now that I understand how true it is.

This isn’t what he meant, but feels as good a segue as any: I always expected to grow out of the thrill of hearing ice cream truck music. Not that I stop every time I see Mister Softee and dump the contents of my purse on the ground, grabbing for cash like I’m in a money machine … but sometimes I do!

The problem is that you can’t manifest the ice cream truck when the mood strikes, and, semi-famously, the McDonald’s ice cream machine seems to always be down. So here are some soft serves in the city that will inspire childlike wonder, jingle not included.

Any visit to Malai feels like a treat. Because it’s in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, there are plenty of post-day camp children being pacified with cups and cones. Malai always has a rotating soft serve; in the past, there’s been Parle-G biscuit, coffee cardamom and, most recently, saffron and pistachio. When swirled, it makes a classic Indian combination known as kesar pista. Now through the end of August, they have mango and coconut, available on their own or as a swirl. You know what to do.

268 Smith Street (Degraw Street)

In the summer, my mom, a known soft serve enthusiast, can’t be downtown without going to Softside in NoLIta. Even when there’s a line, she insists it’s worth it for the Riff, a precariously tall swirl of vanilla ice cream topped with honey, grassy olive oil and sea salt. I’m a pistachio girl myself, and prefer it with just a sprinkle of salt — in a cup, please, so I don’t have to fight against time to keep my paws from getting dripped on.

51 Spring Street (Mulberry Street)

Pizza and ice cream! Two great tastes that go perfectly together, and both are notably great at Leo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where there’s soft serve at the restaurant and in the next door slice shop. The soft serve flavor changes seasonally, but is usually a swirl and is always delicious. Even the flavors I didn’t expect to like — Concord grape and peanut in the spring — become a monthlong fixation. For now, it’s black cherry and mascarpone with a drizzle of olive oil and flaky salt, a combination that does justice to stone fruit season (the best season).

123 Havemeyer Street (Grand Street)

Here’s a tip — you can go to Cote, in the Flatiron district, stand at the bar, get a cocktail and order a cup of soft serve. It’s only listed on the menu as part of their Korean “butcher’s feast” tasting menu, but I’ve double-confirmed for you that it’s available à la carte. The soft serve is a subtle, milky vanilla, really a pedestal for the standout soy sauce caramel. Last time I had it, I learned that there are two types of people: normal ones who get a bit of caramel on each bite of ice cream, and those who stir it into the ice cream vigorously (ahem, Priya Krishna). Fascinating.

16 West 22nd Street (Fifth Avenue)

I try to avoid the overstimulating scene at Chelsea Market, which is why I’ve long avoided Seed + Mill’s vegan tahini soft serve, despite how up my alley it is. (My best friend once did an impression of me and all she could think of was, “I’m Becky, and I love tahini.” To be known is to be loved.) I’ve since learned that, now, you can avoid the chaos with Seed+Mill’s direct entrance on 15th Street and beeline to the counter for a sundae with an oat milk soft serve topped with crumbled halvah and a drizzle of tahini. Nutty, creamy, joyful, triumphant … summer!

409 West 15th Street (Ninth Avenue)

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