Did you know there are over 400 shave ice shops just in Oahu? Just kidding, but I definitely wouldn’t have any complaints because I love this dessert. Shave ice is made from (literally) shaving a block of ice and generously lathering the mound in syrup. Toppings are optional, but I find it necessary if you want to add a bit of texture or creaminess! Common toppings include ice cream, red beans, condensed milk, fruit, soybean or li hing mui “salted plum” powder. As a shave ice fanatic, I was on the hunt for the best ice texture, flavor, and sweetness level.
In the capital city of Honolulu, you will find more than a dozen shave ice shops to choose from. There are local mom and pop shops, franchises, tiny stalls, and those located in a large strip mall. It can be downright terrifying with all these delicious choices!
Luckily, I’ve taken care of the difficult parts for you. I’ve climbed the highest mountains, went down the lowest valleys, and added several pounds to my waist to create this comprehensive guide to shave ice in Oahu so you can head straight to the one that speaks to you most.
Hopefully you have a nice cold beverage or ice cream within reach because I have a bunch of places to share with you. Here is my list from worst to best using the Bites of Travel scale for ice texture:
WAIOLA SHAVE ICE
2135 Waiola St, Honolulu
Order: Lychee & Mango with Vanilla Ice Cream $3.50
Ice Texture: Shockingly perfect
Loved: Ice texture fluffy and perfect
Disliked: Cost of quantity/quality, too sweet, customer service
The first stop on my list was Waiola Shave Ice. Many rave that this is the best in Honolulu (including former President Obama). Here’s the truth, I was so disappointed in Waiola that I didn’t even want to take a photo. The price was quite steep for a 10 oz cup and I couldn’t get past how overly sweet that tiny cup of ice turned out. We were the only ones in line, but the owner continued to rush us with the order even after I asked for a few minutes trying to decipher their convoluted menu. The only redeeming factor here was the consistency of the ice (it may be the best I’ve tried), but even then that doesn’t warrant a second return.
Tip: Know what you want before getting in line or endure the constant attitude while you decide.
UNCLE CLAY’S HOUSE OF PURE ALOHA (aka HOPA)
Level 2 of Ala Moana Center, Honolulu
Ice Texture: Average
Loved: Ice cream options
One of the two locations found in Oahu, you’ll find that they have an easy to read menu with a selection of special creations. Aside from shave ice, they offer shave ice drinks as well as malasada (donut) ice cream sandwiches. It is quite pricey for a small bowl ($3.75), ice cream (+$2.25), 3 pieces of mochi (+$1.00). I didn’t find their syrups to be any different than the typical artificial ones from a bottle. In terms of the ice cream, they offer the most flavors of all the shave ice shops and the only one to include dairy-free options. Topping prices vary and depends on the size of your bowl.
Tip: Get the homemade ice cream, skip the mochi. The special creations save you $0.50 had you paid for the items separately.
MONSARRAT SHAVE ICE
3046 Monsarrat Ave, Honolulu
Ice Texture: Good
Loved: Natural fruit syrup, portion
Disliked: No shade and shriveling up in the sun while waiting to order (imagine Spongebob on land)
Perfect cool down treat after hiking Diamond Head, and only one mile away! Don’t be discouraged by the tiny space it occupies, they make up for it by serving huge portions. The menu is very simple at $5 for 1-2 flavors with each additional topping for 50 cents. What makes this different from most shave ice places is that they use natural fruit which more of a puree than a syrup. As a result, the ice doesn’t melt down to a sugary soup when you get to the bottom of the bowl.
Tip: Get the pineapple flavor, but skip the mochi balls (not fresh).
AOKI SHAVE ICE
66-082 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa
Ice Texture: Good
Loved: Price, Cool no mess cone holders
Just a few steps away from Matsumoto, you’ll find Aoki Shave Ice. It has the same flavors and prices, just without the line. What makes this place slightly different from the others is the cone they use to serve ice. You’ll be met with childhood nostalgia after seeing their cone, yet introduced to modern day cleanliness with their no drip/no mess cone holders (that you won’t see anywhere else)! Aoki doesn’t drown their creations with tons of syrup, so it is not overwhelming when you eat it. If you are curious about li hing mui, then this is the place to give it a go! It was my first taste and I really enjoyed the extra sweet/tart flavor which added another dimension to the shave ice.
Tip: Come here if the line at Matsumoto’s is too long! Remember to recycle the cone.
ISLAND VINTAGE SHAVE ICE
2201 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu
Ice Texture: Great
Loved: Syrups, Mochi, Ice Cream
Disliked: Price (my wallet would not survive here)
Island Vintage was a little difficult to find since it does not have a storefront, but the kiosk is located on the sidewalk of the Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki. The lychee mint syrup was out of this world. It was perfectly sweet and the mint added a great refreshing touch to the lychee flavor. Their ice cream was very light (like a blend of ice cream and frozen yogurt) and their mochi was definitely homemade and chewy. I was really shocked by the price of the preset menu combinations at $7.95, but ultimately chose to go with one of them as it was a better deal than customizing my own. The ice was really fluffy and the flavors didn’t taste artificial at all. If it wasn’t for the price, it would be a tie at the top of my list.
Tip: For the menu items, flavors can be substituted but not toppings. Highly recommend the chewy homemade mochi!
MATSUMOTO SHAVE ICE
66-087 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa
Ice Texture: Great
Loved: Texture, Price, Ample outdoor seating
Disliked: (The line if I had been stuck in one)
When you look up shave ice in Oahu, Matsumoto will be at the top of the results page. I saw dozens of people enjoying their ice on the benches right outside. 99% of visitors will tell you to go here and for good reason. This is your no frills, generously soaked shave ice at a reasonable price. The ice is fluffy and the quantity is filling. Without finishing my shave ice list, I had to agree that this was my favorite shave ice at the time. You might also wonder why you went to other shave ice places and paid twice as much if you tried this place last.
Tip: Get the large size for just 50 cents more!
KAIMANA SHAVE ICE
66519 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa
Ice Texture: Great
Loved: Fluffy ice, Natural fruit syrups, Homemade ice cream, back patio seating and view
Disliked: Nothing, except that there isn’t one back in California
You know how I said I found my favorite shave ice back at Matsumoto? I changed my mind once I had my first spoonful at Kaimana. Their syrups are made from real fruit and you can really taste it. The lychee had tiny brown flecks from the seed’s membrane, while the strawberry tasted like it was just juiced. Before leaving, I told the owner I was going to return later that day. And three hours later, I walked through the door for my second visit. Loved the pineapple flavor, the mango could be reformulated but otherwise, love the ice, syrups, and ice cream!
Tip: Don’t get the packaged mochi, but their ice cream is a must!
Hope this helps you narrow down your shave ice choices in Oahu! Let me know if you’ve tried any of these places or which ones sound good to you. Happy eating!