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Taro, Pudding, Oatmeal, Lychee: Ranking Ice Garden’s Best-Selling Shave Ice Bowls
We asked you to name your favorites at the classic ‘Aiea shave ice shop—and then we ate four sugar rush-inducing bowls.
Summertime heatwaves have me craving ice in all forms—specifically snowy mountains drenched with thirst-quenching toppings. During these months even a Waimānalo girl like me will go the distance in search of relief.
Ice Garden in ‘Aiea has always been an old-school favorite of mine. The shop was opened in 1982 by two Taiwanese sisters who served up fluffy bowls with a hybrid of local-style and Taiwanese toppings. In 2017 their nephew took over and to the relief of loyal customers, the sweet memories are still the same.
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To these dedicated fans, we posed a question on Instagram: Which Ice Garden shave ice reigns supreme? The clear winners were No. 7 which is shave ice topped with pudding, milk and mochi balls; followed by No. 5 with taro, milk and mochi balls.
When I arrive at the Ice Garden window I ask about other popular choices. These turn out to be No. 29 with oatmeal, chocolate and mochi balls; and the numberless lychee, strawberry and pudding shave ice. I am shook. Some of the winners I expect—the homemade flan is divinely eggy with just the right amount of jiggle, while the taro topping mixes small-kid-time poi memories into a shiny glaze. But I expected more fruity flavors like rainbow, or some crazy tropical combos. Also, oatmeal?!
I order all four favorites and dig in. The first two are classics, sweeter than your average shave ice but balanced by the creamy milk flavor. While I’m a huge #flanfan, the chunks of taro with mochi balls are a unique texture grouping that keeps me going back for more. The oatmeal on No. 29 is made with tiny oats, producing a velvety feel. Mixed with layers of chocolate flavor, mochi balls add extra dimension to the chewy topping. The numberless wonder is super refreshing and gets the best of both worlds with its wobbly flan hat.
The results? Fighting to stay on the ground following a mind-altering sugar high, I conclude that No. 5 gets my top spot based on originality and the food memories it awakens. In second spot is the numberless contestant, whose lychee and strawberry ooze refreshing summer vibes. No. 7 comes in third because I love the mild milk flavor against the rich custard, and this one is great for sharing with a double dose of pudding. Oatmeal-topped No. 29 comes in last among the crowd favorites, because for me the combination of everything is too cloyingly sweet.
At this point, my mind starts to map out shave ice preferences by region—for East Siders like me, it’s all about li hing mui and liliko‘i flavors balancing out sweet syrups, but town and Waikīkī have their share of milk- and taro-topped bowls. What I do know is that against the universe of old-school versus new wave, local-style versus other shave ices, Ice Garden continues to deliver a unique, nostalgic take. Even though for me it means a trek over the Ko‘olau, I’m here for it.
99-115 ‘Aiea Heights Dr., (808) 488-5154, @ice_garden_aiea