The Best Shaved Ice Desserts in the Country
Move over, ice cream and ice pops — shaved ice is the cool-me-down treat popping up from coast to coast.
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San Diego: Pisco Shaved Ice at Kettner Exchange
Part cocktail, part beautifully composed dessert, Kettner Exchange's pisco shaved ice is the perfect way to cool down in the California sun. To make it, a pisco sour (lemon juice, egg white, pisco and simple syrup) is frozen in an ice machine. Once frozen, it's shaved and combined with a light meringue, chunks of fresh, tangy grapefruit and a bit of lemon zest. The dessert is topped with edible flowers for a finishing touch.
Dallas: Strawberry Shaved Ice at Snowbaby
When owner Chrissy Kuo decided to open up a shaved ice place, she wanted to make sure the treats she served were healthy — sans preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup. It took her 11 months to perfect her first flavor, vanilla bean. Kuo described her shaved ice as what would result “if a snowcone and an ice cream had a baby”; thus the name Snowbaby. Popular flavors include the Birthday Cake, made with vanilla bean snow with fresh strawberries, cake bites from local gluten-free bakery Unrefined, natural sprinkles and a sweet milk drizzle. The coffee bean shaved ice is made with local coffee, and the dairy-free coconut flavor is made with organic coconut milk.
Los Angeles: Fiji Water Shaved Ice at Umeda
Shaved ice is a year-round staple at Nobu protege Takuya Umeda's Hollywood sushi restaurant. Here Umeda uses Fiji Water to make his shaved ice (something he carried over from his days at Nobu, where they revered the water’s purity) and tops it with various housemade syrups in flavors like green tea or sweet plum and other goodies like condensed milk. Last summer featured a mango version — coconut ice cream topped with shaved ice and a thick mango syrup.
Chicago: Rainbow Mountain at BaoBing
Stephanie Izard’s Duck Duck Goat is a home run on its own, but the recently added window BaoBing is a way to sample her creative Chinese cuisine all day long. The snack shop has a few savory options — wraps, Taiwanese fried chicken, fried tofu — but part of its allure comes from fun takes on sweet, icy treats. The Rainbow Mountain, aptly named for its abundance of colors, is also full of flavor, with soft-serve ice cream piled high with a trio of blueberry, mango and cucumber mint snow ice.
Philadelphia: Rice Milk Shaved Ice at Cadence
The menu at regionally focused Cadence is well thought out, so it’s no surprise that the restaurant's take on shaved ice is a creative one. The dessert starts with a rice pudding base. The rice milk shaved ice is made from combining rice milk with herbs like rose geranium or red shiso and with the juices of blackberries soaked in sugar and lemon. The mixture is then frozen until it’s ready to be shaved. The final dessert is a texture explosion: rice pudding dusted with a candied sunflower streusel, then topped first with a layer of fruit and then with the rice milk ice, blackberry syrup, a few fresh blackberries and more streusel.
Cary, North Carolina: Snowball at Herons
The team at this spa and hotel restaurant manipulate the shaved ice to be reminiscent of a winter snowball, the kind they used to toss around as kids. To do this they make shaved ice with a Japanese kakigori machine and top the ball of ice with frosted lemon rose geranium leaves that they grow on the restaurant’s farmland. The dish is finished with pickled blueberries, violet jam, honey, snow sugar and a little creme fraiche.
Asbury Park, New Jersey: Watermelon Shave Ice at Betty’s Ice Box
There’s nothing like a cool treat while you're strolling the boardwalk, which makes Betty’s the perfect stop for shaved ice, ice cream and popsicles. A favorite is the brightly hued watermelon shaved ice dessert, which is served in a half of a small watermelon. The shaved ice lies on top of some vanilla soft serve and chunks of fresh watermelon, and is dotted with mini chocolate chips to make it look like the real thing (and make for an Instagrammable moment!).
San Francisco: Banana Coconut Snow at Powder Shaved Snow
When Mimi Hanley and David Chung couldn’t find Taiwanese-style shaved ice anywhere in the Bay Area, they decided to open a place themselves and Powder was born. Flavors vary from the more traditional, like green tea or black sesame, to the more creative, like cereal milk or banana coconut. The same goes for the toppings, which range from classic (mochi) to quirky (Fruity Pebbles).
New York City: Matcha Mountain at Bonsai Kakigori
Bonsai Kakigori owners Gaston and Theo bought an original hand-cranked kakigori machine to try to re-create the kind of shaved ice that Gaston had tried and loved in Japan. They succeeded and now appear at both Smorgasburg and the Canal Street Market with overflowing bowls filled with flavors like Strawberries & Cream, with fresh strawberry juice, black sesame brittle and whipped cream, and the bright green Matcha Mountain, made with pure Japanese matcha and a yuzu matcha foam and finished with puffed rice.
New Orleans: Nectar Cream with Condensed Milk Sno-Balls at Imperial Woodpecker Snoballs
The Big Easy version of shaved ice comes in the form of a sno-ball. This isn’t the hard-packed snowball you envision throwing in the winter, but rather a soft and fluffy pile of ice, often sporting bright rainbow colors. Then there are Imperial Woodpecker's cream flavors: Sweet Lou's Nectar Cream, made with condensed milk, is popular, as are Orchid Cream Vanilla and Cream of Ice Cream.