The first taste that hits your mouth is… green apple? It’s as if you ate a green apple next to a campfire built of cedar wood. You take another bite of your ice cream, luxuriating in the tart creaminess. This is exactly what you’d want to be eating on the most punishingly hot day of the year — which makes sense, because the ice cream is made of nopal, otherwise known as prickly pear cactus.
On New Year’s Eve 2015, Adrienne Borlongan made a resolution: She would find a career that had something to do with food. Maybe something tied to her love of travel, ideally something based in her native San Fernando Valley. She settled on the idea of opening an ice cream shop with distinctive flavors based on her own travels, experiences and favorite flavors.
Eight months later, in a nearly empty strip mall, in a storefront vacant for eight years since a Cold Stone Creamery had closed (“They had left everything: ice cream equipment, pots, pans, spoons, everything,” Borlongan says. “We didn’t realize how lucky we were.”), she opened Wanderlust, a small-batch ice cream shop with flavors that sound like a Mad Lib filled out by Willy Wonka.
Toasted pretzel-infused ice cream sprinkled with rye bread? Why not? The salt of the pretzels and chewy rye bits contrast gloriously with the sweetness of the underlying cream. Is it saltier than it is sweet? Impossible to tell. Best to have another bite.
Three years after opening, there are lines down the street at each of Wanderlust’s three stores in L.A. (there’s also a pop-up version at the Smorgasburg farmers market on Sundays). Families, couples, groups — all show up and wait to see what Borlongan has dreamed up. No wonder: Wanderlust is unique and delicious. This is not your father’s 31 flavors. Its slogan, “A destination in every scoop,” also serves as a mission statement.
Growing up as a Filipina in Los Angeles, Borlongan had birthday cakes based on ube, the traditional yam-based treat from the Philippines, only to have her classmates turn up their noses at the unknown purple cake. At Wanderlust, she’s determined to make ube “as regular as vanilla.” Ube should never be scorned by a child again; this ice cream is the platonic idea of the cereal your mother never let you have when you were a kid. You eat it and your brain races around, trying to identify the flavors. Banana? Coconut? Vanilla? That grape candy you can never find anymore? Your brain tells you to shut up and just enjoy the ride.
Wanderlust pays homage to European ingredients and flavor combinations: Borlongan’s first ice cream flavor was Fig Leaf and Pistachio, based on a meal she had in Croatia with a fish wrapped in fig leaves, steamed, drizzled in honey and sprinkled in pistachios. There’s no fish in this recipe. But don’t put it past her to figure out a way to add it and make you love it.
Wanderlust is, at heart, a Los Angeles creation, and Los Angeles is, at heart, still a crossroads city, much of its population coming from the South and the East. So Wanderlust celebrates this melting pot with 21st-century flavors.
Anybody can order a Negroni in a bar but in a sugar cone? The first taste is the juniper bite of gin, which softens quickly into the vanilla/orange Creamsicle flavor of Fior di Sicilia and the distinctive flavor of Bergamot, balanced by a Campari and blood orange sorbet. You have another because it’s only available for a week and, unlike an actual Negroni, you can safely drive after consuming a couple.
One-third of Wanderlust’s flavors change every month, as flavors come into season or Borlongan’s mind concocts another dementedly brilliant blend. Not everyone is pleased with the changes. “I get angry emails when a flavor is discontinued. Like I’ve taken their life away,” Borlongan says. This might seem a trifle overblown for what is, after all, a scoop of cold, sweetened, thickened cream, but Wanderlust isn’t just a dessert. As Borlongan says, “It’s an escape. And it’s way cheaper than an airline ticket.”
When Quinn Cummings isn’t writing about ice cream, she’s thinking about ice cream.
- 18511 Ventura Blvd., Los Angeles (and two other locations, plus the weekly Smorgasburg market)
- (818) 774-9888
Three More Places to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth in L.A.
- Village Bakery: Delectable cakes and pies to eat in or take home, Instagram-ready iced cookies and a sourdough to die for. An adorable neighborhood bakery worthy of “Gilmore Girls.” 3119 Los Feliz Blvd., (323) 662-8600.
- Proof: Proof specializes in traditional French desserts and pastries, including what is rumored to be the best croissant in town. Get there early; they sell out. 3156 Glendale Blvd., (323) 664-8633
- Say Cheese: Need a little savory after your sweets? Go to Silver Lake’s beloved cheese store and get a Gouda or snag a Stilton. They also have chocolates in case you want to start all over again. 2800 Hyperion Blvd., (323) 665-0545.