Posted by: shaveicesnobs | October 18, 2009

Head to Head: Matsumoto vs. Aoki

On our quest to find the best shave ice, we decided to go to where shave ice was made popular — Matsumoto’s Shave Ice and Aoki’s Shave Ice on the North Shore. Two rival shave ice stores with a gravel parking lot between them. How do they rate from cone to cone, ice to ice, flavor to flavor? Well, pretty much the same.

We blogged about Matsumoto’s before. We gave them a rating of three cones. But on this recent visit, we seriously reconsidered our rating and thought about possibly downgrading their rating to two cones. Granted, they are a Hawaii institution founded in 1951, and — who knows?  — could have been the first to sell shave ice. We do know that they’ve become a monster in the biz. Matsumoto’s popularity among tourists may have watered down their quality. The shave ice we ordered was packed so hard, it felt like a snowball, ready to be thrown at someone. We had to pick at it so hard that chunks of ice flew to the floor. Making shave ice is definitely operator-dependent.


The quality of Matsumoto’s syrups is one saving grace, besides pretty cool t-shirts. Our friend and SIS sidekick Luz ordered strawberry and sour li hing mui. The strawberry was your standard strawberry, which means it’s pretty good. But the sour Li hing mui made your mouth pucker like you were eating a real Li hing mui seed. The flavors are not too sugary and taste like their namesake flavor, which is always a good sign.


Later that day, we headed to Aoki’s. The line was considerably shorter than Matsumoto’s but, in our opinion, you’ll get a slightly better shave ice here than at Matsumoto’s. Their shave ice texture and quality was finer and softer than Matsumoto’s snowball-fight-ready-quality. Although the shave ice was misshapen compared to the rounded rock at Matsumoto’s, we didn’t need an ice pick to eat it. The flavor of the syrup was more sugary and doesn’t seem to have the quality of Matsumoto’s syrups. We tried melona and li hing mui — both were decent but nothing to rave about.



We are having some internal debate here at SIS headquarters. One of us thinks both stores still merit a 3 cone rating, which is very good and nothing to sneeze at. Another party thinks we should downgrade both to a 2 cone. If the snowball maker continues working at Matsumoto, however, we’re looking at shipping Matsumoto to the Mainland. If you’re out on the North Shore, just go to the one with the shorter line. Or if you want to rate which one is better, go to both. You can never get enough shave ice after all, even if, in the words of the noted romance God Bret Michaels, it doesn’t Rock Your World.

Posted by: shaveicesnobs | September 18, 2009

No Walk in the Park at Ice Gardens

One measure of popularity in Oahu are the annual awards for “Best of” in the Honolulu Advertiser. Readers submit their favorites in various categories, including shave ice. Once upon a time, Ice Gardens in Aiea topped that list. 2006 is pretty recent, but I’m really beginning to wonder … what the heck are people thinking? — CF

In the defense of Ice Gardens, most things are subjective and such impressions are formed to a great extent by the things you’re exposed to, grow up with, and to which you’ve become accustomed. That said, I understand how people like azuki, and, short of being allergic to dairy, ice cream is hard not to like. Ice Gardens has all that — azuki being particularly old school Japanese – and also mochi balls. The mochi balls, like boba, are a fun distraction from the usual, but they shouldn’t be there to cover up for bad shave ice.

Our impression is that the nice ladies at Ice Garden aren’t working hard enough on their shave ice. It’s slopped into a bowl, unpacked, with syrup splashed over it. Azuki, mochi balls and ice cream are similarly added to the mixture. Attention to detail seems lacking.  We’re fans of lightly packed, finely shaved ice in cones, but here the ice is medium coarse, and not packed — just shaved and dumped into styrofoam bowls, which makes for less work. Syrup choices are limited, and what there is is sugary. The ants seem to like it, though.

Parking is available in the small shopping mall/professional building that also houses Koa Pancake House, next to McDonalds.

Rating:  2 Cones

Ice Gardens
Aiea Shopping Center
99-080 Kauhale St
Aiea, HI 96701-4116
(808) 488-5154‎
Posted by: shaveicesnobs | September 12, 2009

Shiga’licious Shave Ice

On Kinau, just past The Queen’s Medical Center professional buildings, a cute pink standalone building beckons.  It’s Shiga’licious Shave Ice & Sweet Shop, which has been in business for the last 2-3 years. There’s a couple of off-street parking spots, and the lady who greets us seems surprised, but helpful, to see customers. Not exactly a great sign. Maybe it was the wheelchair. -CF

It's not all about how you look.

It's not all about how you look.

Any way, we get to ordering and choose POG – passion orange guava – and plain passion fruit on the other. There’s a one-size bowl for $2.50, and you can order it with azuki or ice cream. We take it plain, but begin to think maybe we should have jazzed it up, but our criteria for great shave ice is just that: more ice, less other stuff. If you make the shave ice well, the other stuff shouldn’t add or detract from the final product, unless you use soft serve ice cream or really, really, really bad azuki beans.

Our shave ice looked good; tasted, uh, good for a hot day. That’s no compliment. The syrups have that unmistakable taste of commercially-made syrup, and not the good kind. The flavor list is small and uninspired. Equally as important as the syrup, the quality of the ice was poor. It was hard, and quickly became watery and icy.

Passion-orange-guava with plain lilikoi.

Passion-orange-guava with plain lilikoi.

Did I say the building was nice? It has that freshly painted look. Clean. Orderly counters. Could benefit from a strong fan or A/C to move the air inside. We didn’t try the Hole-E-Cow polish dogs in a sweet bread bun, which may be just the thing to keep Shiga’licious in business, because it’s not the shave ice.

Rating: 2 cones

Shiga’licious Shave Ice & Sweet Shop
Kinau Street (Diamond Head side of Alapai St.)
Honolulu, HI  96813
Posted by: shaveicesnobs | September 8, 2009

Monsters of the Midway

M. Matsumoto Store in Haleiwa, Oahu, is to shave ice what McDonald’s is to burgers. If Matsumoto doesn’t yet have 10 billion served, they might be close. Witness the daily madness for the counter people who man the North Shore landmark:  the line crawls out the front door, snakes westward under the awning and into the parking lot. Thank you sweet baby Jesus for parking lots! — CF

Some years ago, this was a place known only to locals and surfistas who frequented the North Shore during the winter surf season.  It was a quiet, unassuming place – Haleiwa, that is – with a two-lane road through town, and a few shops that gave the place a certain ambience.  It took some doing to get to Haleiwa before the H2 freeway extension, but it could be done, and the reward for travelers was a great shave ice and a new secret spot.

Well, that secret is now obliterated, much like the chance of lifetime employment for a loyal employees. It’s sooo not secret anymore that Matsumoto has lost its cool on the island. The proprietors are trying, though. They continue to produce a very nice shave ice with a variety of flavors, with good prices. They make nice t-shirts that harken back to the Matsumoto-When-It-Was-Cool days during the 60s, 70s and 80s. Of course it continues to be cool on the Mainland, mostly because of popular culture references (see the 2004 film, 50 First Dates, starring Adam Sandler). Locals now look to Matsumoto with a sense of awe, and perhaps a bit of jealousy, about a local shop that — sniff — went the way of tourists.


Adam Sandler among the celebrities that have eaten at Matsumoto.

Adam Sandler among the celebrities that have eaten at Matsumoto.

Matsumoto has spawned legions of fans, for good reason, and plenty imitators. Aoki shave ice, which is a stone’s throw from Matsumoto, and makes a really good shave ice itself, is like a remora riding the back of a shark, waiting for leftovers. More on Aoki later.

Anyhow, let’s get to the brass tacks:  Matsumoto has a great many flavors and created many island favorites themselves. The ice is fine, and not too crunchy or too soft, and the syrups have nice flavor without being too sugary. You get a very nice shave ice here. Well worth the wait if you’re not averse to crowds. A little hint:  go early, eat often.


You can visit their web site, where you can buy t-shirts and other souvenirs. The proprietors estimate that they serve 1,000 shave ice a day — and they probably do!

Rating:  3 Cones

M. Matsumoto Store
66-087  Kamehameha Highway
Haleiwa, HI  96712
Posted by: shaveicesnobs | September 1, 2009

A Hidden Shave Ice Gem

On our search to find shave ice shops, we have been to the popular spots — Matsumoto’s, Aoki’s, and Waiola  — but we came across this hidden gem as we were driving along King Street. Nestled on the corner of an nondescript building that houses Hata Restaurant, we spotted a shave ice poster on the window and discovered Jung Shave Ice. — DF


A humble storefront

We didn’t know what to expect — it could have been Junk Shave Ice — despite the shop getting a little ink from one of the local dailies last month (For the record, we didn’t see the article until we saw clippings at the shop). The storefront and interior screamed After-School-Place-For-Kids, crammed with candy, snacks and foods of the 75 cent and dollar variety. A couple of folding chairs outside, and converted five-gallon buckets made into stools completed the look. Our thinly bearded proprietor – the  target of insults by the backpack-toting munchkins from the school across the street – moved deliberately from rice cooker to microwave to shave ice machine:  his effort bringing in quarters, dollars and, of course, a smile or two.

Jung’s shave ice menu isn’t extensive. Flavors are the usual here:  strawberry to lilikoi, and all hand-made at the shop.  His syrup was not too sweet, and covered a fluffy ice, packed well, that  never became icy or watery.  The first bite we had of lilikoi and banana (recommended by a regular) was unexpectedly – how to say this – nice. Like in NIIIIICCCE brah!  The whole amazingly inexpensive treat ($2 for a large cup) finished well.

A standard flavor menu

A standard flavor menu


Handmade syrups with the usual local flavors.

Getting your shave ice takes a little patience. After all, there is only one proprietor, and almost no room for anyone else behind the counter. He does move a little slowly, but he gits ‘er done. Your shave ice is lovingly made with care and attention to detail, and what you get is a terrific shave ice without the hoopla that we see at the well-known tourist haunts.

The slow and thorough pour makes a nice shave ice.

The slow and thorough pour makes a nice shave ice.

Rating:  3 cones

Jung Shave Ice
1738 S. King St.
Honolulu, HI  96826
Posted by: shaveicesnobs | August 19, 2009

Baldwin’s Sweet Shop – a icy blast from the past

You could say that I’m biased writing this but this is the shave ice I grew up with. Every summer, my grandparents would take my little sister, Teri, and I to get shave ice. From what I remember, I never had a favorite flavor — I would tend to try different flavor combinations. It’s been over a decade since I last had a Baldwin’s shave ice but from the first bite, it brought me back to my hana-batta days.  — DF

Baldwin'sNestled among the numerous restaurants in Waimalu Shopping Center, Baldwin’s Sweet Shop has its following among the Pearl City/Aiea/Pearlridge neighbors looking to cool off on hot, humid summer days. There is a wall-full of syrups with add-ons, such as ice cream or azuki, and a choice of sizes (keiki, small, medium, large, etc.).

The syrups are a tad sweet but flavorful. I wanted strawberry cream, which is my new favorite flavor, but they didn’t have it. So, we tried Melona and passion fruit. Both flavors tasted like the “essence” of Melona and passion fruit. The ice was slightly fine but hard and grainy. It finished well with some mixing. They use standard-size cups, instead of cones. The prices are reasonable : $2 for a small, which a small turned out to be pretty large.

Baldwin’s has plenty of parking, is wheelchair accessible, and has a wide variety of other snacks.

What sucks? The workers seemed a bit pushy and was impatient with us since we took a while to decide what flavors we wanted.

Rating: 2 cones

Baldwin’s Sweet Shop
98-040 Kamehameha Hwy
Aiea, HI 96701-5113
(808) 488-0505

Posted by: shaveicesnobs | August 18, 2009

The ‘Original’ Waiola Shave Ice

Who knew there was an “original?” I didn’t.  I only knew of the one on Kapahulu Avenue – always busy with tourists and more than a few locals, too. It wasn’t until we were driving along the backstreets of McCully did we discover the original Waiola Shave Ice on Waiola Avenue. — DF

We figured the original Waiola had to have something on the “new” Waiola. If anything, fewer tourists and maybe a special something that only locals got to experience. For starters, there’s parking, and a bit more elbow room. There’s the requisite bench, and an ordering window – and it all seems a bit more orderly than the line that snakes out the door at the “new” Waiola.

The portions are small. Very small, and expensive. A large cup here is smaller than a Shimazu small, or even the keiki-size from Ewa Seed on Geiger at Fort Weaver Road. The small sizes, though, are made up in taste. The syrups are first rate and cover an extensive menu of the usual local flavors. There are also an abundance of toppings, such as mochi balls, condensed milk, ice cream and azuki. The toppings are a matter of taste, but for this Shave Ice Snob (SIS), they take away from the purity of our local shave ice. Azuki is a Japanese thing, for example, and ice cream? Who the heck started that?

The first bite is like eating a cloud. We had the ever-popular strawberry cream and banana, which, unfortunately, had a bright yellow residue that looked toxic. Taste good, look bad. They even sell bottles of their syrup, and it’s good (we tried it at home, but that’s another story). The ice is fine and not icy, and the whole thing is a picture of perfection. Great things indeed can come in small packages.

Rating:  3 cones

Waiola Shave Ice
2135 Waiola Avenue
HonoluluHI 96805
(808) 949-2269
Posted by: shaveicesnobs | August 13, 2009

The Real Deal: Shimazu

Locals fiercely defend their neighborhood shave ice, and if it’s Shimazu — it’s well justified. Despite the crappy parking situation, having once walked two loooonng blocks in the hot sun to savor a bunch of flaked ice, sugar and air, it is, quite simply, worth the wear on your rubbah slippahs. — CF

A "small" shave ice.

A "small" shave ice.

If you drive too fast you’d miss it if it weren’t for the line snaking out of the doorway at this busy shop — closed Mondays — on School Street in Nuuanu.  Locals definitely know the place, hidden from the bus lines that run from Waikiki to the Polynesian Cultural Center.  And it’s not much to look at:  a simple covered awning over a small corner of a building that houses piano classes, and next to a non-descript alleyway. It feels like old Hawaii, when the streets weren’t so packed with cars and town wasn’t filled with high-rises.

Blocks of ice, unrefrigerated, stand like sentinels on a table next to one of two shave ice machines. A monster list of creative and one-of-a-kind syrups such as red velvet and crème brûlée spill out of a refrigerator, and a cooler, and threaten to fall off a table under the poster listing all the flavors. The line seems daunting,  but it all moves relatively briskly, with one person taking orders, and the man with frozen hands packing cups, with or without extras:  condensed milk, ice cream and, sigh, azuki.

The man with frozen hands.

The man with frozen hands.

This is only the most popular syrups. The crazy stuff is refrigerated.

These are the most popular syrups. The crazy stuff is refrigerated.

What you get is out-of-this-world tastiness. The ice is finely shaved and doesn’t clump into icy chunks. The syrups taste like the things for which they are named. The first bite is as good as the last. We ordered red velvet cream, and it tasted like eating a red velvet cupcake from Hokulani Bakery. It’s amazing. All that was missing was the cream cheese frosting.

Crazy good flavors!

Crazy good flavors!

For those of us whose tastes run toward the pedestrian, their everyday flavors are just as good. Sizes are very good for the price. $4 buys you a large that two people may not finish, and of course, there’s “The Larry” which is allegedly so large we’ve not seen anyone order this. The Larry is a challenge that Adam Richman of Man vs. Food could handle, probably pretty easily. Besides shave ice, they have cool t-shirts and other snacks, but we know what draws the crowd.

This place is the real deal – the Chef Mavro of shave ice.

Can we grade the place down? Yes. Parking really — how do you say — blows. And if you’re in a wheelchair, it’s a bit of a challenge to get pulled up the single step, over the threshold, and through the crowd to see the menu. But is it worth the hassle? No question.

Rating:  4 cones

Shimazu Store
330 N School St.
HonoluluHI 96817