Of all the culinary movements flocking to Long Beach over the past few years, the vegan takeover may be the most appreciated (by us, anyway). And carrying on this plant-based sweep is Hug Life, the OC-based ice cream and dessert shop. In addition to busy locations in Garden Grove and Orange, Hug Life opened a new spot on Fourth Street (where Do Good Donuts used to be) just a few weeks ago.
“We were able to open within a month of signing papers since it used to be a doughnut and soft-serve place. Long Beach has always been a location we wanted, but we never found the right space, so when this opportunity presented itself, it was too perfect to pass up.” says Johny Tran, who calls himself the “main owner.”
The dessert parlor (full name: Hug Life Anti-Dairy Ice Cream n Stuff) may be led by Tran, but as the shop’s bio states, “Hug Life was conceived by a close-knit group of friends who had a plant-based lifestyle and listened to a lot of hip-hop.”
It promises to be organic and always powered by plants. Of the 16 ice cream flavors offered, standout options include the Banana Boy (bananas, roasted walnuts, cookie bits and cinnamon) and the Mango Chamoy (a sweet-tart mango-juice base with red chamoy sauce and Tajín).
Diehards should note that the popular Sesame Street (roasted black sesame with activated charcoal and dark chocolate) remains exclusive to OC locations (for now). But you’ll still find all the classics, such as vanilla bean, cookies and cream, rocky road, and strawberry. Plus, the majority of the flavors are both gluten- and nut-free.
And yes, it’s actually really, really good. Vegan ice cream (we’re not talking sorbet) has recently found its stride. Trying to replicate a cream-and-eggs recipe with plant substitutes sometimes led to an icy, chalky mess, but Hug Life’s version nails the perfect balance of sweet, velvety and rich.
“First-time customers tend to be conflicted with what flavor to go with,” says Tran. “So we definitely suggest getting our Hug-a-Bowl, which is three mini scoops of any of our flavors. And it comes with a complimentary dry topping and drizzle, all in a chocolate-dipped waffle bowl.” Drizzles can be chocolate, caramel or condensed coconut milk; dry toppings can include sprinkles or cinnamon-toast cereal, among many more choices.
But if the Hug-a-Bowl sounds a little daunting (and it is pretty hefty), try the Ice Cream Sammich: two thick, soft, just a little crumbly, chocolate-chip cookies encasing a thick slab of your choice of ice cream.
If you’re feeling nostalgic, there’s a root-beer float made with Virgil’s Natural Root Beer and a scoop of your preferred flavor, which should obviously be vanilla bean—come on!
“We make our ice cream in our shops,” Tran says. “As a team, we decide what flavors to make, and sometimes we even ask customers for suggestions.
“We definitely are always working on expanding and spreading our ice cream to different cities so everyone of all diets can enjoy,” he continues. And really, it’s true of the vegan ice cream trend as a whole. “We want to make our ice cream more accessible to everyone.”
Hug Life, 2707 W. Fourth St., Long Beach; www.huglifeicecream.com.