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.