Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream – San Francisco

Warning: This is a very long post. Consider it an ode to Chinese-made gelato.

Marco Polo was one of our many pitstops on our food adventure-slash-road trip to Norcal. On that particular day, we trekked about 10 blocks from Tea Way from Sunset before arriving at this assuming ice cream shop.

And I’m certainly glad to have experienced all the glory that is Marco Polo. (More Norcal folks need to know about this place! It was pretty empty on the day I came.) What really enticed me was the elusive durian gelato here, and it’s totally worth each bite.

Order:
First off, the sheer assortment of exotic flavors made it really hard for us to choose (I already have a hard enough time deciding as it is). The four of us ended up sampling at least a dozen flavors before narrowing down our choices. Each of us ordered a small cup with 2 flavors, for $2.85. Might sound a bit pricey, but rest assured, the flavors and textures amazed us.

Since we shared the cups on a rotation basis (the durian hater in our group had to forgo it, her loss, tbh), I got to try cantaloupe, coconut, durian, pistachio, taro, water chestnut, green tea, and guava flavored gelato. All were simply mouthwatering in their own ways. My biases were durian and pistachio, although guava and water chestnut came close.

  • Durian: The durian’s buttery texture and complex scent were well-preserved. It was obvious that real durian chunks had been used.
  • Guava: Mmm mmm mmm. I grew up tending guava trees, so I had my expectation set high.The slightly grainy texture of guava (when pureed, guava skin gives off a grainy feel) was still intact. It was simply divine, as Nigella Lawson would put it. (If you don’t know her, she’s the British goddess of sexual innunedos.)
  • Pistachio: Everything that one wold expect, in a slowly melting package of cream and chunks of nut.
  • Water chestnut: My mom is Hakka, so I’ve always had an affinity for water chestnuts. The color was really attractive and the taste was superb: light and subtly sweet.

Environment:
Really old school mom-and-pop shop. The place looked like it would belong on any Main Street in Middle America, except for huge golden Chinese characters “Mage Boluo” (馬哥孛羅) emblazoned on its shop sign, Chinese for Marco Polo. The interiors look like they needed an upgrade about 3 decades ago, but there’s plenty of space for small groups to savor each spoonful. I guess that’s part of the charm. Good food is timeless.

Service:
We felt really bad about sampling almost everything, especially since we’re so used to the stereotypical Asian glares that come with giving free samples. But the guy working there didn’t pressure us to buy. He was really chill and gave us plenty of time to decide. I do, however, wish that he had been more generous with the portion sizes.

Verdict:
A resounding YES. It’s officially become my favorite gelato shop in America and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be coming back when I visit SF again. I tend to eat fast, so it took a bit of effort to take in the flavors with each spoonful, and wait for the gelato to completely melt on my tongue. But boy, I was schooled in food orgasms that day.

Address: 1447 Taraval St, San Francisco, CA 94116

Peace,
Justin

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