No matter the season or mood you’re in, even if it’s pouring rain outside, it’s always a good time to eat shave ice in Hawaiʻi. Every Oʻahu local has a favorite spot, from Waiola Shave Ice for their impossibly-fluffy ice to Shimazu for their enormous portions. Those spots are famous for good reason, but you’d be surprised to find out how many unknown vendors have amazing shave ice that few people have tried (but everyone would love). Get ready to step out of your shave ice comfort zone.
1. Your Kitchen
If you like to have a lil’ something salty to go with your sweet shave ice, paying a visit to Your Kitchen is the way to go. In addition to delicious shave ice topped with homemade syrups, they serve awesome plate lunches and bowls (people swear by their melt-in-your-mouth pork bowls). I tried their Fujiyama shave ice, which is green tea flavored with condensed milk, a scoop of green tea ice cream and azuki red beans on the side. The flavor of the green tea tastes strong and authentic, unlike the soapy-tasting green tea I’ve had at other places. Pure heaven.
This small shop in Kaimuki is all about fresh, organic ingredients. They use only real, fresh fruit, and rotate flavors often to ensure that their shave ice is always made with in-season ingredients. Some of their flavors have included (gasp!) sweet potato haupia and pickled mango. If you’re spending the day out of town, they also have a truck that frequents the north shore. Even your pup can partake in the deliciousness, as they serve a “doggy bowl” shave ice that’s flavored with beef and topped with a bone.
The definition of “hole-in-the-wall,” this place is located in a little alley next to Pioneer Saloon. Monsarrat Shave Ice is unique for their homemade syrups, which are actually more like purées; they are so thick that they have to be layered with the ice to saturate it. The syrups come in delicious, not-too-sweet flavors like yuzu, açai and coconut. You can also try unique toppings like kuromitsu “black honey” syrup and kinako (roasted soybean) powder, but if you like to keep things old-school, they offer condensed milk for free with any order of shave ice. I tried a combination of the açaí and strawberry flavors, pictured above.
For those who live on the east side of Oʻahu and aren’t in the mood to drive all the way to town for shave ice, The Local Hawaii will be your new favorite spot. Their syrups are made with locally-sourced, all-natural ingredients such as mountain apple, lychee and mango. If you’re not in the mood for shave ice but still want something to cool you off on a sweltering summer day, they also serve other refreshments like soda floats.
5. Ice Garden
Despite its longevity and loyal fanbase, this shop is still a hidden gem. It’s a no-frills place and the shave ice isn’t exactly the most Instagram-able, but do not make the mistake of skipping over it. The ice is ultra-fine, and their toppings are to die for. People rave about their flan-like custard topping as well as their taro, mochi balls and oatmeal. If you can find the time to drive out of town for Ice Garden shave ice, do it.
I know what you’re thinking. “What? But everybody knows about Uncle Clay’s!” Well, sadly, I didn’t until a few weeks ago. It’s not the most obvious place for town-dwellers to go for shave ice, but it’s definitely worth it. Uncle Clay’s shave ice is deliciously fluffy, served with made-from-scratch, fresh-fruit syrups and homemade toppings such as mochi balls.
If you’re lucky, you can even catch Uncle Clay himself, who serves his customers with a warm smile and genuine aloha spirit. I tried the Strawberry Dream, which comes with strawberry syrup (that has actual seeds in it!), a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, “dream sauce” and heaps of fresh-cut strawberries.