In the summer of 2020, when many businesses around Seattle were still closed due to the pandemic, Ashanti Mayfield didn’t have a lot of activities she could do with her daughters. The one thing she could still do, though, was go out for ice cream. And Mayfield says she realized how easily the simple treat could “put a smile on my daughters’ faces.”

Mayfield, who’s a cosmetologist, decided she wanted to open an ice cream shop in the Rainier Beach area to share those smiles with other families. About a year later, the grand opening of Creamy Cone Café was held on Memorial Day weekend.

Like the ice cream outings Mayfield took her daughters on to break up the monotony of the pandemic, Creamy Cone Café is a family affair. On a recent Sunday, she worked the counter with her sister, Alexis Jones, and her 11-year-old daughter, Soule Robinson, while her uncle, Tim Collins, sat in a chair next to the window.

Mayfield says she’s not making her own ice cream yet, but she’s worked with her suppliers to craft a banana pudding ice cream specifically for her shop. The sample I tried was comforting, imbued with the honey-sweetness of perfectly ripe bananas and softened with chunks of spongy vanilla wafer.

The watermelon sorbet was light and refreshing, like an agua fresca. The mild watermelon flavor soothed and cooled, and I finished my cone feeling rejuvenated. The housemade waffle cone it was served in was caramelly sweet and shattered between my teeth.

Creamy Cone Café is primarily an ice cream shop, but Mayfield also sells gifts made by a few local entrepreneurs, including earrings and necklaces made by her youngest daughter, Robinson.

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Creamy Cone Café

1-8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2-8 p.m. Sunday; 9433 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle

Matcha Man Ice Cream and Taiyaki

1-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 6014 12th Ave. S., Seattle

Matcha Man Ice Cream and Taiyaki quietly opened in Georgetown at the end of May to give Seattleites what they didn’t know they needed: soft-serve ice cream in taiyaki cones. The shop is in the former location of the now-shuttered Seattle Freeze ice cream parlor.

Taiyaki is a popular Japanese waffle that’s shaped like a “tai” — Japanese for sea bream — and traditionally filled with adzuki bean paste. The taiyaki ice cream cones at Matcha Man are similar to regular taiyaki, except that the fish have huge gaping mouths that serve as containers for the soft-serve, making them look less like tai and more like a wide-mouth bass.

But regardless of the species of fish, the cones, which have crispy skins and airy interiors, accentuate the velvety texture of soft-serve better than one-dimensional waffle cones ever could.

Donald Gacilo, the shop owner, has been doing Matcha Man pop-ups since 2017. He says he got the idea from other soft-serve taiyaki entrepreneurs who had stores before him in cities like Los Angeles and New York. But to his knowledge, Matcha Man is the only place in Seattle for soft-serve in taiyaki cones.

Gacilo makes the taiyaki cones in a special griddle behind the counter. He also makes the ice cream flavors in-house. The namesake matcha is grassy and bitter, but not too bitter, and pairs well with the optional glob of sweet adzuki bean you can add to the taiyaki cones.

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The black sesame ice cream is also a good choice, with wonderful toasty notes. Gacilo says he makes the black sesame soft-serve by pulverizing toasted black sesame seeds in a blender.

And the ube soft-serve’s warm, nutty flavors are softened further with the caramelized sugar in the taiyaki.

Gacilo says Matcha Man will have rotating monthly flavors. And he’s building a tea bar in the shop to serve matcha drinks and other teas along with the soft-serve. In a couple of years, Gacilo says he hopes to open more locations in other parts of Seattle.

Aqua S

Noon-11 p.m. daily; 308 105th Ave. N.E., Bellevue. Check aquas.us.com for current soft-serve flavors.

The newest location of the international soft-serve ice cream chain Aqua S had its grand opening in downtown Bellevue on July 17. The ice cream parlor is now the sixth Aqua S location in the U.S. and the first on the West Coast. The chain started in Sydney, Australia, in 2015, and now has 14 locations worldwide with locations in Cambodia, Singapore and China.

Aqua S sells rotating flavors of soft-serve with extravagant toppings like “fairy floss,” wheels of cotton candy wrapped around cones or cups as well as ice cream in containers. Available soft-serve flavors change twice a month and are updated on the company’s website and Instagram. The flavors of the soft-serve and ice cream tend to be international — think Vietnamese coffee, durian and orange fruit tea — along with standard flavors like chocolate and vanilla.

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When I went to Aqua S in Bellevue the day after the grand opening, customers streamed in and out to grab soft-serve almond-chocolate, sea salt and orange fruit tea ice cream, and to snap pictures of their frozen treats next to the angel wings painted on the aqua blue wall of the parlor.

Aqua S ice cream is definitely Instagramable — with the bright colors, the fairy floss and the black cones — but the flavors are bold and worth eating, even if you aren’t taking pictures.

The orange fruit tea soft-serve really tastes like jasmine tea: bitter, grassy and floral. The “café su da” (Vietnamese iced coffee) ice cream is roasty and robust. And the durian ice cream is so pungent you’re not allowed to eat it in the store.

Lil’ Tiger Ice Cream

Noon-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 12348 Lake City Way N.E., Seattle

Lil’ Tiger, a new ice cream shop in Lake City, serves Pacific Northwest flavors like marionberry and huckleberry, and donates to a different nonprofit every month. (Jade Yamazaki Stewart / The Seattle Times)

Richard Ridout started the nonprofit Bounceback Seattle in 2018 and was working to house homeless residents of Lake City in a local church when the pandemic hit. The housing he had in mind didn’t work with social-distancing measures, so Ridout, who was once homeless himself, decided to help his neighborhood in another way: by opening an ice cream shop.

Ridout, who’s 72, opened Lil’ Tiger Ice Cream, which is named after his basset hound, on May 3. He says he donates an amount equivalent to 50% of the tips received at the shop to a different nonprofit every month, though he takes that money out of his revenue, not out of employee tips. Ridout says that was around $1,700 per month in May and June, which he donated to Coyote North, an organization that helps kids build useful skills, and the Hunger Intervention Program, which fights food insecurity in King County. In July, the ice cream parlor will donate to the horticulture program at Nathan Hale High School and, in August, to Literacy Source, an organization that helps adults, mainly immigrants, learn the literacy skills they need to succeed in America.

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Beyond the charitable causes, Lil’ Tiger serves a good variety of ice cream, including Pacific Northwest flavors like marionberry sorbet and huckleberry. The huckleberry is particularly good, the mild berry flavor mellowed by cream.

Lil’ Tiger also serves smoothies and smoothie shakes, a milkshake with smoothie ingredients like bananas and frozen berries Ridout says he buys from the Lake City Farmers Market.

Ridout even has an ice cream for dogs — made out of yogurt, peanut butter and berries — which he serves for free to his canine customers.

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