Why Waiola Shave Ice Is Honolulu's Best Way To Cool Off

Hot Hawaiian summers call for a cup of Waiola's snowy shave ice

You learn a lot about a person by their first AIM screen name. Mine was Islandgirl1989, which is misleading. The classic birthdate suffix of my generation is factual, but the rest really isn't. I'm not an islander—unless that's what you call a resident of Awesometown, California—but rather the daughter of a Hawaii boy (Roosevelt High School, represent) who packed up his wife and kids each summer to visit his side of the family off in Honolulu. So close enough.

Once we landed (and after we snuck in a Zippy's run on the way to Grandma's), I would meticulously change my MySpace name to whichever local street sign caught my attention. (Piikoi was a constant favorite.) My order at Zippy's, however, was always the same: fishy, brothy saimin, the island's soupy cross between fish-ball soup and ramen—the GOAT of noodle soups, in my opinion. I loved everything about Hawaii, from the songlike language that wove its way into traffic signs to the strange fusion of food that defines (and complicates) the island's culture. I also didn't mind friends assuming I was a real Hawaiian, based on my screen name.

So to this day, the snobbiest you'll find me as a Fauxwaiian is talking about shave ice (NO D), and hallowed ground is at none other than Waiola Shave Ice (the second location pictured here among the Ward Center shops). Yeah, there's probably corn syrup in the viscous, highlighter-hued lilikoi (passion fruit) and OG POG (passion-orange-guava) syrups, but that's secondary. Here, texture—a finely buzzed down, pillowy ice—is the most important component of shave ice. It's not jagged, flaky shards of ice like snow cones, or grainy and speckled ice with mix-ins (cereal! ube!) like the Filipino and Korean kinds.

Instead, at this 76-year-old institution located in a quiet neighborhood just off Downtown Honolulu, you get a small Dixie cup with a scoop of ice cream or adzuki beans, a sizeable mound of beautifully chiseled ice that's velvet-like and a free range of those unapologetically sweet syrups. That's it. Not a cheffy sprinkle of crackly sea salt or trendy pile up of toppings. It's simple in a weird Hawaiian way, given this is a land that lives off of Spam musubi.

And that's really all you need after panting out your order under the hot sun or as you're finding shelter during the monsoon-like downpours that tend to come with paradise. At least, that's what you do if you're a local.