Best ice cream and shaved ice in the Bay Area for winter

The past few days have been brutal for the American winter: a powerful northeast brought snow emergencies across the entire East Coast, “freezing fog” descended over the Pacific Northwest and even Texas coped to a frost warning.

Right here? It was mild and sunny, with the rest of the week promising the same. Some people love our mild Bay Area climate. Others, longing for a change of pace or perhaps lacking their roots in other states or countries, might miss a real winter.

So what to do? Well, you could drive in the mountains and make snow angels. But there is an easier and proven way to relax: brain freeze.

As many people learned early on at the 7-Eleven Slurpee machine, brain freeze happens when you consume something so cold it sends a railroad spike of dull pain through the roof of your mouth. To be clinical on this, here’s a medical definition from the Cleveland Clinic: “Brain freeze, or ice cream headache, is severe pain in the head caused by eating or drinking something cold.”

It disappears in a minute, leaving you free to continue devouring your tasty dessert. Here’s a sample of places you can embrace your inner Frosty the Snowman with a solid case of brain freeze:

Hawaiian Drive Hostel, San Jose

Anyone who’s been to Hawaii has probably tasted shaved (not “shaved”) ice, a smooth blend of finely cut ice pellets and super-sweet syrups in every color of the rainbow. This restaurant serves shaved ice flavored with watermelon, fruit punch, sour apple and tiger’s blood, a strawberry combo with a hint of coconut. They’ll even top it with condensed milk, if you like – enjoy a taste of heaven while numbing your head!

Details: Open 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily at 1095 Tully Rd., San Jose; hawaiiandriveinsanjose.com.

The icy offerings of Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard, Fremont (and other locations)

At the other end of the icy spectrum is soft gelato, which features a mixture of coarser ice particles. Rita’s offers a fancy version with classic flavors like Cherry and Lemon or, depending on where you’re visiting, weirder flavors like Sour Patch Kids and “Unicorn.” They can also mix it into an ice-cold drink or (Philadelphia folks cover their ears) top it with rich dollops of ice cream.

Details: The Fremont location is open 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Friday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Sunday, and 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday at 39006 Paseo Padre Pkwy., Fremont, CA 94538; for other locations, see ritasice.com.

An ube-flavored ice cream donut sandwich from Milkbomb in downtown Berkeley. (John Metcalfe/Bay Area News Group)

Milkbomb Ice Cream, Berkeley

What’s better than an ice cream sandwich? How about a donut with ice cream? Milkbomb obliges with a selection of top international donuts – glazed, brioche, Portuguese malasadas, Filipino ube pandesal in the color of Barney the dinosaur, and more – stuffed with ice cream. You can top them with sweetened children’s cereal and blackened marshmallow fluff under a torch. The owners are getting creative with their rotation of ice cream flavors, having toyed around with activated charcoal, coffee-mint mojito and imported durian from the Philippines.

Details: Open Thursday-Sunday (check Yelp for latest hours) at 2079 University Ave., Berkeley; milkbombicecream.com.

Trueburger, Oakland

This much-loved joint has made a name for itself with classic burgers and garlicky fries, but what some may not realize is that its milkshakes are great too. These are heavy, hand-spun, frozen dairy bombs that you can make even more sumptuous with a variety of blends. Some swear by peanut butter and fresh bananas, others Oreo cookies and toasted marshmallow, but for a unique experience, opt for a shake topped with everyone’s favorite post-apocalyptic snack, Twinkies.

Details: Two locations at 146 Grand Ave. and 4101 Broadway, Oakland; check out the website for hours, trueburgeroakland.com.

Cauldron, San Jose

Hailing from SoCal, this ice cream shop wowed locals when it opened a few years ago with whipped concoctions in clouds of freezing steam. The flavors change regularly and have drawn from such tasty offerings as Vietnamese coffee, s’mores, milk and cereal, and rose water. The ice cream is stuffed into a “puff cone” made from sweet egg batter that looks like delicious edible bubble wrap.

Details: Open daily (check Yelp for latest hours) at 1088 E Brokaw Rd., Suite 60, San Jose; www.cauldronicecream.com.

About Thomas B. Countryman

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