Scooper Heroes: Our Guide to the Best Ice Cream Sandwiches in Portland

Grab a cup of water and as many napkins as humanly possible. Things are about to get sticky—and tasty.

Ice Cream Sandwiches (Mick Hangland-Skill)

Like all dessert superheroes, the ice cream sandwich has a heck of an origin story.

It all began in 1890s Chicago (or New York, depending on whom you ask—as with most foods, the history is a bit murky), where pushcart vendors sold slabs of ice cream tucked between pieces of paper. Called hokey pokeys, these slippery delicacies may have led to Jerry Newberg’s invention: vanilla ice cream squeezed between two chocolate cookies, which the vendor sold at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field in 1945.

Newberg’s claim to the title “forefather of the modern ice cream sandwich” has been debated, but there’s no denying the deliciousness of the concept. Ice cream sandwiches may be underrated in the dessert pantheon, but the most delicious sandwiches unleash a complex rush of flavors that put even the finest sundaes to shame.

Here’s ice cream’s dark secret: Alone, it’s not particularly special. What is ice cream without a cone? Without chocolate sauce or sprinkles? Without a second scoop to challenge the flavor of the first? Contrast is the lifeblood of ice cream, and that’s what a great sandwich delivers.

The post-pandemic years have been sobering for ice cream sandwich lovers in Portland—especially since the city’s most decadent sandwich, Palio Dessert and Espresso’s marvelous chocolate chip and vanilla monstrosity, is now history.

Even worse, Ruby Jewel shuttered its scoop shops in 2020. It still sells prepackaged sandwiches, but when you grab one at New Seasons or Pizzicato, its eerie smoothness seems to mock your memories of ice cream freshly scooped onto cookies.

Yet the age of the ice cream sandwich is far from over in Portland. Across the city, ice cream artisans are perfecting new ice cream and cookie combinations that are redefining a classic dessert. To these visionaries, the sandwich isn’t just a convenience store staple. It’s an opportunity to create a work of art.

That’s why we assembled this guide to the best ice cream sandwiches in Portland. So grab a cup of water and as many napkins as humanly possible. Things are about to get sticky—and tasty.

The Cookie Dough Café

120 NW 13th Ave., 503-477-7985, 12:30-9 pm Monday-Wednesday, 12:30-10 pm Thursday and Sunday, 12:30-10:30 pm Friday-Saturday.

The Cookie Dough Café's sandwiches are stuffed with so much ice cream they have to be served in a bowl, lest every customer drowns in a melty typhoon. In addition to cookie dough, milkshakes and pints, the Pearl District scoop shop offers a full menu of customizable sandwiches (which you can enjoy with either cookie dough or ice cream). On my visit, I wolfed down double chocolate, cornflake-crusted cookies with salted caramel ice cream ($7.50), which complemented each other perfectly. Since the helping of ice cream was generous and the cookies were served warm, the sandwich proved a tad unwieldy, but that’s not a bad thing. When it comes to ice cream sandwiches, pristineness is the enemy of taste. And the Cookie Dough Café's sandwiches taste good.

Cosmic Bliss

207 NW 10th Ave., 971-420-3630, 1-9 pm Sunday-Thursday, noon-10 pm Friday-Saturday.

You won’t fully understand the meaning of the word “extravagant” until you’ve tried one of Cosmic Bliss’ ice cream sandwiches ($7). The Pearl District scoop shop of the company formerly known as Coconut Bliss dips its sandwiches in melted chocolate and dusts them with toppings, like strawberries. It’s a lot—and it’s pretty darn tasty. Once, the shop even granted my request for a specially made sandwich dusted with fudge cookie dough. Cosmic Bliss has a reputation for plant-based ice cream so creamy you can’t believe it’s vegan, but its innovations in the sandwich arena are equally worthy of worship.

Cosmic Bliss Photo courtesy of Cosmic Bliss.

Doe Donuts

4110 NE Sandy Blvd., 503-333-4404, 8 am-4 pm Monday-Thursday, 7 am-6 pm Friday-Sunday.

Who’d have thought that a humble vegan doughnut shop behind the Hollywood Theatre would make scrumptious ice cream sandwiches? Not me, but Doe Donuts offers a respectable variety of flavor and cookie options ($6), each individually packaged in cute little boxes. I recently had a very refreshing marionberry and snickerdoodle sandwich, which scored points for both flavor sharpness and cookie softness. Other options include chocolate chip and mint, s’mores and chocolate, and lemon and Earl Grey.

Great Harvest PDX Bread Company

810 SW 2nd Ave., 503-224-8583, 7:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday.

When it comes to ice cream sandwiches, the right flavor with the right cookie can be a revelation—as anyone lucky enough to taste Great Harvest’s sandwiches ($5) can attest. Over the years, the Portland outpost of Great Harvest Bread Company has perfected a dizzying array of combinations, pairing its housemade snickerdoodles (and countless other cookies) with everything from chocolate to marionberry pie ice cream (yes, I’m a little obsessed with snickerdoodles and berry flavors). Slated for their grand return in June, these sandwiches are best enjoyed on a summer day at one of the bakery’s sidewalk tables by anyone bored with the familiarity of the old Jerry Newberg style.

Holler Treats

7119 SE Milwaukie Ave., 971-200-1849, 1-8 pm Wednesday-Friday, 11 am-8 pm Saturday-Sunday.

On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for Jerry Newberg raised to an exalted level of yumminess, Holler Treats is the one to beat. Behold: a square, bricklike confection modestly encased in foil, offering no hint of the wonders within. Unwrap the sandwich ($8) and you’ll find cakey cookies hugging custardy ice cream. No fuss, no self-consciously weird flourishes—just a classic done right. Plus, just being at Holler Treats is a soul-nourishing experience. With a mural featuring smiling ice cream cones wearing sunglasses and an adjacent arcade, it’s the ice cream parlor you dreamed of as a kid but never dared hope for.

Holler Treats Photo courtesy of Holler.

Kate’s Ice Cream

3713 N Mississippi Ave., 503-249-9640, Noon-10 pm daily.

I was initially skeptical of Kate’s, which took over Ruby Jewel’s former Mississippi Avenue location last year. But once again, I learned not to dismiss plant-based ice cream out of hand. Here, coconut milk takes the place of dairy, but you won’t be thinking about that when you bite into one of the gigantic, artfully crafted sandwiches ($8). Kate’s lets you choose any flavor of ice cream (I picked orange creamsicle, which tastes like an elevated version of those addictive vanilla and orange ice cream cups you eat with a wooden spoon) and two toppings. As I watched a server spread chocolate and coconut on the inside of my sandwich, I grew anxious, wondering if Kate’s was overthinking an appealingly simple dessert. Yet adding texture and crunch to the sandwich turned out to be a masterstroke. In short, Kate’s has proven there’s an ingredient in ice cream sandwiches more essential than sugar: imagination.

Kate's Ice Cream (Allison Barr)

This story appeared as part of Oregon Summer, our annual free magazine out now all over Portland. See where to pick one up here.

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