Best Ice Cream in Saigon

food - Saigon/HCMC: Aug. 17, 2018

If the inner child inside you has been yelling out loud for sugary redemption, City Pass Guide has you covered!

Apart from the celebrated chains available in Ho Chi Minh City such as Haagen-Dazs, Swensens and Baskin Robbins which require no further introduction, where else can you find great ice cream in Saigon?

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To help you with that, we spent nearly 20 man-hours binging on sugary treats at countless locations to bring you a list of the best ice cream, gelato and soft serve locations in HCMC. We hope you’re mentally prepared because we’re pretty sure you’ll need to hit the gym after this feature!

Ralf's Artisan Gelato

Address: 39 Đặng Thị Nhu, Nguyễn Thái Bình ward, District 1
Opening Hours: 1 p.m. - 10 p.m. on weekdays. 11.30 a.m. - 10 p.m. on weekends. Closed on Mondays.

Named after German-native Ralf Ehresmann who moved to Vietnam in 2016 to share his passion of authentic gelato with foreigners and Vietnamese alike. Ralf's Artisan Gelato focuses on authentic Italian-style gelato that is made from scratch using state-of-the-art equipment, natural ingredients and without semi-finished starters which are common in the gelato industry.

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True to his German vibes, Ralf is meticulous about quality. A walk in his self-described 'gelato laboratory' was a mildly life-changing experience.

“I micronize everything!" Ralf said. Micronization refers to industrial-level blending that reduces solids to extremely fine particles, critical for creating smooth gelato. Ralf uses the best possible ingredients available to create his artisanal desserts: Alphonso mangoes, MAROU chocolate, pure pistachio paste... you name it!

Some of his creations are near mind-boggling yet surprisingly delicious. For example, adventurous eaters can sample the bacon gelato made with Quan Ut Ut's smoked bacon, Winking Seal's craft beer, virgin-pressed Phú Quốc fish sauce... and even a phở gelato made out of two bowls of phở đặc biệt.

Vegans will love Ralf's creations too since his sorbets are ridiculously smooth and velvety, nearly the same sensation as a milk gelato without the guilt!

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Bottomline: The ultra-smooth texture of Ralf's gelato and his dedication to high-quality ingredients is impressive; worth every dong at VND60,000 a scoop. Seasonal items such as mangosteen and cantaloupe makes Ralf’s Artisan Gelato worth many return visits.

Ralf's Artisan Gelato might also be the only place in Ho Chi Minh City where one can sample the decadent German-style eis kaffee, which is basically a whipped-cream garnished coffee beverage topped with generous amounts of vanilla ice cream.

Our favourite flavours: amarena cherry, raspberry sorbet, Phú Quốc fish sauce (reminiscent of sea-salt caramel) and nếp cẩm, fermented Vietnamese purple rice.

Puppy & Cesar

Address: 35 Tống Hữu Định, Thảo Điền ward, District 2
Opening Hours: 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily

Located in Thảo Điền, this quaint and homely gelato store has been making Italian-style gelato since 2013 and is the brainchild of a dog-loving couple who learned gelato-making in Italy.

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"Julius Cesar is the Roman emperor and Cesar Millan is the Dog Whisperer!" Thao (co-founder) exclaimed. What a stroke of genius!

"Pupper & Cesar focuses on creating unique flavours, which are special, delicious yet not too weird," Thao said.

Flavours such as cheesecake, salted caramel cookie and chocolate orange sorbet, filled with candied orange peel, are gelato creations beloved by millions of people. Vegans will fall in love with Puppy & Cesar's black sesame gelato with Korean brown rice milk, a flavour that resembles a hearty bowl of Hong Kong-style black sesame dessert, albeit nice and cold. With a traditional Vietnamese twist, flavours such as cốm green rice kernels and salted kumquat are interesting pairings that work surprisingly well alongside western flavours.

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Bottomline: At VND25,000 per scoop, the quality of gelato at Puppy & Cesar drastically exceeds it's price which makes them one of the most popular places for ice cream or gelato in District 2. A perfect place for weekends!

Our favourite flavours: Apple pie, made with home-pressed apple juice and speculoos cookies, leads as the most unique flavour we tried during our high-sugar binge to complete this article. We also loved their tiramisu gelato made with real mascarpone cheese and matcha made with top-quality green tea powder that is ground from leaves harvested in Kyoto during the springtime.

Osterberg Ice Cream

Address: 94 Xuân Thủy, Thảo Điền ward, District 2
Opening Hours: 2 p.m. - 10 p.m. on weekdays. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. on weekends.

An excellent ice cream shop all the way from Denmark. The Osterberg family was in the fresh fruits business long before venturing into ice cream; a very tempting reason to journey to District 2 for a taste of Osterberg's fruit based sorbets!

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At Osterberg, all milk based ice cream such as Tahiti and bourbon vanilla are made with Danish milk while unique vegan flavours such as avocado and date sorbet, and peanut butter steal the limelight. We also sampled a carrot and orange ice cream-like creation that is made with no milk or sugar, an excellent choice for health-conscious folks!

Staying true to it's Danish roots, the elderflower sorbet here is a dessert adaptation of Hyldeblomst Saft, a lemonade-like beverage commonly made using elderflower heads, lemons and sugar, floral and summery...simply a must-try!

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Bottomline: Many expats adore Osterberg for it's dense ice cream and fruit sorbets as well as its rotational selection of vegan choices. Guests can also create their own ice cream cakes using any ice cream and sorbets available on the menu.

Our favourite flavours: piña colada made with white rum, strawberry and the vegan chocolate sorbet made with MAROU's locally grown dark chocolate. This is possibly our favourite chocolatey indulgence that we chanced upon while creating this list.

Dolce Vita

Address: 74/2 Nguyễn Cừ, Thảo Điền ward, District 2
Opening Hours: 12.30 p.m. - 11 p.m. daily except Mondays

Another authentic gelato maker, Dolce Vita is a hidden gem in the heart of Thảo Điền, District 2. Leonardo, born in Sicily, quit his job as a shoe designer for brands such as Coach and Geox to start a gelato business with his partner Nga, leveraging on his knowledge gained from working six years in a gelateria during his college days.

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“We create many custom flavours for more than 20 restaurants in Saigon!” Leo, as he prefers to be addressed, said proudly. Pendolasco, an excellent Italian restaurant also located in Thảo Điền, sources their gelato directly from Dolce Vita.

Leo’s dual gelato chiller is able to hold 24 flavours, which often run out in a matter of days or even hours, especially on busy weekends. Amazing flavours such as Te Te craft beer, Italian yoghurt, white chocolate, spicy chocolate, lemon and basil are unique combos not easily found elsewhere. He also gets inspiration from his daily routines.

“I made an orange and ginger flavour because I have that everyday for breakfast. Give me 15 minutes and I can make any flavour for you!” Leo said laughing. Before making his gelatos, Leo pasteurises premium milk that comes straight from Dalat, right in the heart of his lab.

For coffee lovers, don’t miss out on Dolce Vita’s coffee-flavoured gelato made with Lavazza espresso or enjoy that same cup of espresso as an affogato, which is served with either traditional vanilla or stracciatella gelato filled with chocolate chip shavings.

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Bottomline: The dense and full-bodied sensation we encountered when indulging in Leo’s cold creations definitely impressed us. City Pass Guide is convinced that anything creamy or rich gets a further boost when Leo puts it into gelato-perspective. No wonder Dolce Vita’s durian gelato, made with the best local Ri6 durians, sells out so quickly!

Our favourite flavours: The ca phe sua da gelato that other reviewers sampled was definitely the most ca phe sua da tasting item that was not an actual ca phe sua da. We were convinced that this flavour could actually spark a craze on social media if handled well. The After Eight flavour at Dolce Vitawas also so similar to the real deal that our reviewers were stunned that it contains no actual After Eights.

The Coconut

Address: 131 Vạn Kiếp, Ward 3, Bình Thạnh
Opening Hours: 6 p.m. - 11 p.m. daily

Founded by Kory Nguyen and his business partner Bao Chau Nguyen, The Coconut is simply, true to it’s name, a coconut ice cream-based dessert shop that impresses with a minimalist menu featuring six unique coconutty items. Each item is derived from Kory’s 20-years of experience living in the United States, along with his desire to use local Vietnamese produce to create delicious desserts at a truly local price.

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“Our pineapple-coconut ice cream is just like piña colada without alcohol!” Kory explained. Topped with both fresh and candied pineapples, this was definitely an interesting first for our reviewers at City Pass Guide!

Kory insists on using top grade avocados, mangos and fresh coconuts. If having a single dose of coconut isn’t sufficient to please your palate, The Coconut’s coconut ice cream with coconut milk infused pandan sticky rice, served in an actual coconut and topped with roasted coconut chips and peanuts, just might. Gosh, did we use the word ‘coconut’ five times in the previous sentence?

Other coconutty items include coconut ice cream coffee (pretty much a Vietnamese affogato) and coconut-mango ice cream which is served with premium Cát Hòa Lộc mangoes from the Mekong Delta region, renowned for their sweetness and pleasing chewiness.

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Bottomline: All items at The Coconut are priced at VND28,000, making this place an excellent casual dessert spot after dinner. This spot definitely strikes a perfect balance between price, quality and quantity!

Q.itchen Factory

Address: Level 2 building, Lô DVTM 9, Đường Số 7, Tân Thuận Đông ward, District 7
Opening Hours: 11 a.m. - 2 p.m., 6 p.m. - 10.30 p.m. daily

Q.itchen Factory is a European and Asian-inspired restaurant helmed by talented Malaysian chef Adrian Chong Yen who developed his career in Singapore and spent time in the Spanish resort town of San Sebastian to bring his understanding of Spanish culinary tradition to another level. As a result, Q.itchen’s creative menu is a flawless combination of east and west.

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“Our open kitchen restaurant emphasises on the locavore concept, where we use locally grown and sourced ingredients as much as possible”, Adrian Chong Yen shared with City Pass Guide.

Apart from their delicious and aesthetically pleasing mains such as Q.itchen Factory’s famed crispy pork belly dressed with a creative Vietnamese-inspired lime-chilli sauce alongside pickled jalapeños, the ice cream desserts are the real reason why Q.itchen is featured on our ultimate list. For starters, there is the super-satisfying dark chocolate sauce filled molten cake, which is served with a nice scoop of in-house vanilla egg custard-based chocolate chip ice cream and covered with meticulously chopped strawberries and crushed walnuts. If you are into warm and cold combinations, Chef Adrian’s crème brûlée topped with banana ice cream is definitely a must try.

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Bottomline: Q.itchen Factory is a great example of a high-quality, affordable and awe-inspiring restaurant gem that doesn’t cut any corners when it comes to the three essentials of a well-rounded dining experience: starters, mains and dessert! For expats living in District 7, this place is a no-brainer for family weekends when you’re too lazy to cook.

Our favourite item: There are only two items containing ice cream on Q.itchen Factory’s menu. City Pass Guide is convinced that this is a good example of ‘less is more’. The chocolate molten cake at Q.itchen Factory stole our hearts like a swift arrow from cupid’s bow. There was simply no contention if one judged ice cream based on both taste and presentation.

Azabu Sabo

Location 1: 97a, Thảo Điền St., Thảo Điền ward, District 2
Opening Hours: 9 a.m. - 9.30 p.m. daily
(We used this venue for our review. Both Japanese mains and desserts are offered here.)

Location 2: B2 Takashimaya Saigon Centre, 65 Lê Lợi, Bến Nghé ward, District 1
Opening Hours: 9.30 a.m. - 9.30 p.m. daily

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Azabu Sabo hails from Kyoto, Japan and focuses on green-tea ice cream and soft serve served plain or presented in every imaginable Japanese manner. Matcha milk shakes, matcha float topped with cream, mango shaved ice topped with mango sauce and mango ice cream, anmitsu (kanten/agar jelly) dessert bowls served with matcha ice cream, fruits, chocolate and a huge strawberry parfait; the list goes on.

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Bottomline: Attention to detail such as homemade red bean paste, President cream and al-dente mochi balls will satisfy anyone with a penchant for caloric indulgence. Come for Japanese mains such as beef curry rice, tempura bento or katsudon and stay for a second round of sugary indulgence. Best sundae (or sunday) ever.

Our favourite item: Our reviewers at City Pass Guide found it marginally impossible to give flavour recommendations at Azabu Sabo because the experience was exemplified by the countless possibilities that could be created by everything sweet found in Japanese gastronomy. However, the Abekawa warm mochi served with kuromitsu black sugar syrup, homemade red bean paste and matcha ice cream definitely won our hearts.

Greenie Scoop

Location 1: 52 Ngô Đức Kế, Bến Nghé ward, District 1
Opening Hours: 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily

Location 2: B2 Takashimaya Saigon Centre, 65 Lê Lợi, Bến Nghé ward, District 1
Opening Hours: 9.30 a.m. - 9.30 p.m. daily

Location 3: L5 Vincom Mega Mall, 161 Xa lộ Hà Nội, Thảo Điền ward, District 2
Opening Hours: 9.30 a.m. - 9.30 p.m. daily

Founded by Mr. Ly Huy Sang, eldest son of Minh Long I Co. Ltd, which is renowned for its high quality porcelain kitchenware. Greenie Scoop shares Mr. Ly Huy Sang’s love of gelato by sourcing high quality tropical fruits from farms in Lai Thieu, Binh Duong province. Greenie Scoop’s cold treats, like many others featured on this list, are made with no artificial flavourings, colourings and preservatives.

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To realise his dream, Mr. Ly Huy Sang visited a long list of renowned ice cream shops and gelaterias in more than 40 countries to understand the secret of creating the cold treat.

Perhaps an acquired taste for some, the popular durian gelato offered at Greenie Scoop is created using a tasty variety of durian from Lai Thieu that is allowed to ripen naturally without the use of ethylene or calcium carbide, which are known to be toxic to humans but very common in Asia. Naturally ripened durian offers better creaminess and lingering aftertaste, immediately noticeable when trying Greenie Scoop’s signature durian gelato!

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Bottomline: The authentic fruit flavours and not-so-sweet quality of Greenie Scoop’s gelato together with convenient locations in District 1 make it a great choice for visitors.

Our favourite flavours: Our top pick is their coconut gelato due to it’s hybrid texture which encompasses both the richness of coconut milk and refreshing taste of coconut juice.The full-bodied passion fruit sorbet is for anyone who loves a sweet yet robustly sour treat—perfect for summer days.

Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart

Location 1: B2 Takashimaya Saigon Centre, 65 Lê Lợi, Bến Nghé ward, District 1
Opening Hours: 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily

Location 2: 169 Nguyễn Thái Học, Phạm Ngũ Lão ward, District 1
(New location opening 31st August 2018!)

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Known internationally for their lucious baked cheese tarts filled with smooth Japanese-style cream cheese, Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart in Saigon Centre created an unexpected cult following with locals who queue for hours just to sample their cheese soft serve. Apart from the cheese tarts and cheese soft serve, other sinful and tasty items are available such as their chocolate almond cheese tart. Interestingly, these tarts also taste great chilled or frozen.

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Bottomline: At VND29,000 per cone of cheese soft serve, the delicate, rich yet not-so-sweet taste of Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart’s cheese soft serve is an indulgence that will not burn a hole in your wallet. We definitely recommend first-timers to opt for the VND60,000 combo which includes both a cheese tart and a soft serve!

Our favourite item: Apart from the cheese soft serve, the recently introduced durian soft serve was also exceptional at VND39,000. It did not torture our nostrils while preserving the richness of the king of fruits. Definitely a great item for people who are trying durian for the first time.

Kem Nhãn Chú Tám

Address: 2 Trương Hán Siêu, Đa Kao ward, District 1
Opening Hours: Approx. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. daily

A no frills, no nonsense place run by a Vietnamese family who achieved widespread popularity with locals for their famed longan ice cream. The ice cream contains real fruit (sometimes two per scoop, and if you’re lucky, three!). Over the years, Kem Nhan Chu Tam has also expanded their menu to include increasingly popular variations such as green tea, rum, coconut, soursop and banana, all flavours that would typically be popular with Saigonese students. The texture of the ice cream here is also eerily close to American ice cream and one wonders about the secrets that lie within. Our local experts at City Pass Guide suggest that a generous amount of condensed milk is used to achieve this!

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Ice cream here is enjoyed with salted peanuts and an essential cup of trà đá (iced tea). Guests are assigned seats in less than five seconds upon arrival, while the nimble crew at Kem Nhãn Chú Tám swing tiny plastic chairs and tables around the sidewalk and shop like pieces on a checkerboard…a truly Vietnamese experience not to be missed! Classic Vietnamese after-school snacks such as deep-fried fish balls and dumplings are also sold here so don’t forget to invite a Vietnamese friend along for a maximum dose of nostalgia.

Bottomline: At a mere VND15,000 a scoop, Kem Nhãn Chú Tám, meaning Uncle Eight’s Longan Ice cream, may very well be the quickest and cheapest way to get a quality ice cream fix in District 1. Kem Nhãn Chú Tám also sells their homemade Vietnamese-style ice cream by the kilogram (VND190,000) and are able to handle deliveries to other districts for a small surcharge.

Our favourite flavours: Apart for their semi-legendary longan ice cream, the green tea flavour here is also surprisingly good.

Image source: Mervin Lee