The Best Shave Ice on O’ahu (According to Me)

Here it is: the definitive list.

A topic of this importance is not to be taken lightly, so I can assure you that I have done some very thorough research before posting this list.

If you visit O’ahu, you will probably be told that Matsumoto’s is the place to visit for your shave ice because, well, that’s where everyone goes. I think, however, that a visitor who only tastes the shave ice at Matsumoto’s is cheated. There’s just so much better out there.

Number 1: Shimazu

Red Velvet with Haupia topping

Shimazu’s cups come big, bigger and huge (get the smallest; believe me it’s enough). They have a size known as “The Larry,” but no-one I know of has ever attempted it. The flavors at Shimazu are the most inventive I’ve come across: they have creme brulee, mojito, red velvet, even durian (though you may be ordered to eat it far outside the store).

The texture is fluffy like cotton, with just a little crunch, and optional fillings and toppings include standards like mochi and red bean, as well as haupia (coconut cream).

My favorite is the sour apple li hing mui, with mochi — although Shimazu’s mochi could be better, and I don’t like that it is cubed.

The only cons are the usual: almost no parking: long lines.

Number 2: City Cafe

Taiwanese Shave Ice with Mochi, Tapioca and Taro

At City Cafe you can choose from regular Hawaiian-style or Taiwanese-style shave ice. This was the first place I ever tried Taiwanese shave ice, and, although Sweet Home Cafe is good, I think it is still the best.

The ice is shaved fine and covered in brown sugar and condensed milk. Toppings include taro, tapioca, pudding and big, firm mochi balls — I think the mochi here is the best.

It’s a small space but I’ve never had a problem finding seating or parking. The owners are quite lovely too.


3. Waiola

Waiola

Wailoa was my favorite for a long time. Their ice is shaved to the finest consistency I have found on the island. The selection of syrups and toppings is small but adequate — I usually get the li hing and lilikoi with mochi. The cups are pretty small for the price and service can be brusque, otherwise there’s not much to fault Waiola.

Honoray Mention: Matsumoto’s

Matsumoto's, North Shore

It’s definitely not the best, I find the ice too thick and crunchy, but you have to visit Matsumoto’s at least for the atmosphere. A North Shore institution, it’s been in the same spot since 1951 and is almost always packed with tourists. Braving the long line and finding a spot on the bench outside is just one of those things you have to do on the North Shore.

Puʻu o Mahuka Heiau

School’s out. The bus to the North Shore started to choke just before the Dole Plantation as groups of kids in board shorts crowded on. I made a smart-ass comment to myself that you never know here if school’s in or not seeing as they hardly go anyway; not knowing that the next day it was to be announced that the furlough’s were ending. Anyway, school is out for summer.

I got off at Pupukea and filled up with an açaí bowl the size of my head from Kava Roots. Nourished, I started the steep walk up to the state monument, dismissing two drivers sympathetically offering rides. The walk up the road was tough, but the dirt road after the turn-off felt a little creepy. No cars passed through there and I tried to wave away thoughts of lurking psychopaths as I hurried along the path through acres of woodland and nothing else.

Puʻu o Mahuka Heiau is Oʻahu’s biggest heiau (temple), a site of religious ceremonies until 1819 when the kapu system was abolished by Kamehameha II. It was thought to have also been the site of human sacrifice. The site consists of three walled enclosures; discreet placards on each warning you, kapu; do not touch the rock walls.

I walked around the outside of the walls, veering off the path to take in the view. Slipping slightly down the cliff edge, I raised my camera for shots of Waimea and beyond. The sand at Waimea was dotted with more bodies than I’ve seen there on a weekday–since the Eddie in December. Kids were hurling themselves of the rock, clambering back up and doing it again; the water below in regular turmoil with giant splash followed by giant splash. Right; school’s out, I reminded myself.

I climbed back up and onto the path around the temple. Paused for a few moments by some stones wrapped and laid on the walls, then at the fruit and lei offerings at a tree at the end of the path.

I walked back down to Pupukea and waited for my bus. Carrying just me and a waitress on her way to a shift at Cholos in Haleiwa, it quietly wound its way past the church. At the stop outside Waimea, the doors opened and it swelled with soggy, vociferous kids. The same ones from the journey here. It must have been them jumping off the rocks.

Matsumoto’s on the North Shore

Only the very early or the very lucky arrive acquire a Matsumoto’s shave ice without standing in a line that stretches out the door, bumping into tourists snapping pictures of the store’s yellow sign. Debate rages as to who has the best shave ice on O’ahu, or even here on the North Shore, but Matsumoto’s has the history (shave ice has been sold at this store for 60 years) and the fame–hence the line.

The ice—while allegedly courser than that of Aoki’s next door—is finely ground and covered with brightly colored homemade syrups. Multiple flavors on offer range from the exotic Li Hing Mui, to the ordinary Strawberry. You may opt for one of Matsumoto’s combinations: the “Rainbow,” “Hawaiian Special” or “Matsumoto’s,” and, if you prefer a little more than ice and syrup in your cone, you can ask for a scoop of ice cream or azuki beans.

The final product makes such a pretty picture that it seems a shame to have to slurp it down so quickly, but you have to hurry because as soon as you get out into the North Shore sun that ice is going to melt and turn into a sticky mess.