Swirl Crush

The Best Soft Serve in Seattle

A childhood classic, all grown-up and sprinkled around the city.

By Allecia Vermillion

Newcomer Matcha Man swirls flavors like green tea and black sesame into the (fish-shaped) mouth of freshly made taiyaki. 

Image: Amber Fouts

A scoop of ice cream has its charms, but soft serve mixes nostalgia and self-direction with the precision of a twirled tower of chocolate and vanilla. A host of Seattle locations, from specialty shops to restaurants, augment this simple pleasure of childhood with sprinkles, hard shells, even the occasional taiyaki cone. Dip into our favorites below. 

Matcha Man Ice Cream and Taiyaki


It’s as if an impromptu party broke out on this quiet Georgetown block, thanks to a stylish (and busy) newcomer that specializes in flair-enhanced soft serve combos and freshly made taiyaki. Those Japanese cakes shaped like open-mouth fish double as cones for gravity-defying swirls of black sesame, strawberry Dole Whip, or ube and vanilla swirl (though you can also request your taiyaki on the side so you can enjoy it warm, without fear of your soft serve toppling while you eat it). Matcha Man began as a popup, but now might be the only soft serve shop in town with a Dozfy mural and a DJ booth; the staff guides visitors through the four-step process of choosing your preferred cone, topping, drizzle, and swirl combo. 

Image: Amber Fouts

The Pastry Project

Pioneer Square

Molly Moon’s alums Emily Kim and Heather Hodge devise some truly delightful revenue streams to help fund their pastry training program. The latest: Thursday- and Friday-only soft serve, dispensed from the dutch door at their kitchen in Pioneer Square, where housemade toppings like coconut cake crumbs or a salty peanut brittle crumble filter nostalgia through some very talented baking minds. By all means, gild that chocolate or vanilla lily with some hard shell topping—chocolate, butterscotch, and a memorable strawberry-passionfruit combo—or some malty hot fudge or sticky toffee sauce. The hours here might be limited, but the flavors are straight-up joy (as is their knack for coating every available surface of your order with toppings). The soft serve program is a partnership with Molly Moon’s and will stick around through September, then make the occasional seasonal appearance. 

Spice Waala

Capitol Hill 

Brilliant. The counter on 15th Avenue proved itself a destination for Indian street food long ago. But recently, Spice Waala added a rotating soft serve program that translates those vivid flavors into frozen form. It debuted in July with a rose-cardamom creation, and upcoming rotations include pistachio and cardamom, mango lassi, and watermelon and fennel. Soft serve comes by the cup, and (sorry, Ballard) is available only at the original location at the moment. 

Spice Waala debuted its soft serve program with a memorable rose cardamom.

Nana’s Green Tea

Denny Regrade

As the name implies, matcha dominates the menu at this Japanese-based dessert and snack shop hidden on a quiet Denny Regrade block. Amid the matcha parfaits, matcha muffins, and matcha cream puffs lies an array of soft serve sundaes, waffle cone swirls garnished with things like red bean paste, jelly mochi, even a wedge of chocolate cake. The shop builds these creations around two flavors of soft serve—vanilla and…you guessed it. 

Milk Drunk

Beacon Hill

The soft-serve window at Homer was so beloved, the owners of the Beacon Hill restaurant made this swirly dessert a centerpiece of their follow-up bar. Here, six flavors await swirls, waffles cones, your choice of hard shell (peanut butter, chocolate, or caramel), and a bevy of toppings, from fancy cherries to crushed-up potato chips. Vanilla and malted chocolate soft serve remain staples, but other specials channel the seasonal Mediterranean vibe over at Homer, like banana cardamom, rosemary and pear, vegan rainier cherry, or fig leaf and coconut. Some curly fries and a fried chicken sandwich—maybe a cocktail—make this a balanced meal. Meanwhile, Homer’s window down the street continues to dispense its own thoughtful flavors. 

Milk Drunk expands on sibling restaurant Homer's soft serve window with hard shell dips and toppings like crushed potato chips and fruity pebbles.

Image: Amber Fouts

Kakigori Dessert Cafe

Madison Valley

There’s a reason the spoons that come with the soft serve are shaped like tiny shovels. This counter-service spot where the Central District meets Madison Valley sports minimalist decor, but an elaborately bedecked lineup of bingsoo, honey toast, and Thai tea concoctions. The soft serve portion of the menu may look restrained compared with, say, a shaved ice confection served in a hollowed-out melon. But a hefty swirl and toppings like mango and sticky rice or a slice of corn on the cob pack flavor, texture, and a play of hot and cold. 


West Seattle

West Seattle’s destination for Detroit-style pizza offers exactly one flavor of soft serve: vanilla. But it’s piped through a hard-to-find machine that edges each frosty white serving with your choice (or two choices) of flavor and color. Suddenly that single order becomes laced with butter pecan, black cherry, strawberry and pina colada, or chocolate and mint. The whole experience is novel, tasty, and even more fun when served in one of Moto’s candy-dusted “pipe cones”—essentially a cylinder of sugary baked dough. 

Moto's combo of piped flavor add-ons and candy-garnished chimney cake cones is nearly as big a draw as the pizza.

Image: Amber Fouts


Chinatown–International District, Tukwila

The brothers, and Hawaiian transplants, behind one of the town’s best poke shops keep the island vibes going with fresh, raw fish—but also a whole dessert menu of shave ice, mochi, and pineapple Dole Whip. The latter is refreshing on its own, even better upgraded into a float, sprinkled with li hing mui and garnished with a few oversize gummy bears. A “pina dolada” takes things even further with a topping of coconut cream and more coconut sprinkled on top. 


Capitol Hill

A plant-filled, wallpaper-embellished tea cafe on 12th Avenue extends its expertise to the realm of soft serve. A pair of housemade flavors includes an oat milk matcha on standby and rotating tea-inspired options like peach jasmine or grape oolong. These delicate flavors require no embellishment, but toppings like crystal boba are fun, regardless. A menu of matcha, milk tea, and cheese tea drinks can take the edge off that soft serve brain freeze. 

Atulea built a soft serve flavor based on the shop's grape oolong tea.

Rachel’s Ginger Beer

Capitol Hill, Denny Regrade, Pike Place Market, University Village 

The quartet of ginger beer bars hopped on  the Dole Whip train early; each of the four locations serves the famed pineapple soft serve as well as classic vanilla. Turn either into a float with your choice of RGB flavor (and booze, if you’re into it) but don’t underestimate the charms of a simple cup of soft serve topped with chunks of Hello Robin chocolate chip cookies. Other toppings include peanut butter cups, Oreos, and nerds—ooh, and sprinkles are complimentary. 

Susu Dessert Bar

Chinatown–International District

Combine the decor of a chic cocktail destination with elegant pastries that change often and sell out quickly and you’ve got…an unlikely destination for beautiful soft serve creations. Chef Muhammad Fairoz’s durian flavor is surprisingly balanced and a fixture on the menu. (He makes his soft serve with egg, so if we’re going to get all technical about it, it’s really frozen custard.) The shop’s second flavor rotates with his sensibilities—maybe Vietnamese coffee or soya milk or roasted banana. Fairoz topped a recent pineapple-coconut combo with a troll hair–esque cap of spun sugar with salted-plum li hing mui. Co-owner Katie Pohl runs the counter and offers guidance on navigating the oft-changing menu. 

A custardy base mellows durian's signature funk; seasonal toppings make it pretty.



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