Ice cream isn’t the only hot-weather treat around Seattle. Here’s where you can get shaved ice around the city.
Ice cream gets a lot of love around here, and rightfully so. Our city is home to the ever-popular Molly Moon’s, where you’ll find a line out the door on any given night. The flavor mavens at Full Tilt aren’t afraid to experiment, often with great success. And we’ve got really good vegan ice cream that appeals to herbivores and carnivores alike.
But look a little closer, and you’ll find another hot-weather treat dotting the city: shaved ice. Like snow cones, but way better in a great many ways. (For one: It won’t leak all over your arm. Those thin paper cones are really no match for a pile of ice and syrup. But I digress.)
Shaved ice is light. It’s refreshing. Best of all, it comes in a variety of flavors, textures and sweetness levels, so you can choose your own adventure. Don’t stop eating ice cream, obviously. But while warm weather lasts, do get acquainted with the glorious selection of shaved ice in our city.
Here are a couple of good places to find it.
Marination Ma Kai
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Just a water-taxi hop away from downtown in West Seattle, Marination Ma Kai is probably the best-known place in Seattle to get Hawaiian-style shave ice. (Not a typo — in Hawaii, it’s “shave ice” without the “d.”)
This version of the cold treat is most similar to snow cones in its texture. The ice is shaved from a giant block into granular bits, after which it’s scooped into a neat little dome shape in a paper bowl, topped with a syrup or two and served. You can, if you like, even add a scoop of coconut or vanilla ice cream.
This is pretty true to shave ice in Hawaii, says Kamala Saxton, one of the owners of Marination. Saxton, who grew up on Oahu, says Marination specifically brought in an ice-shaving machine from Hawaii to get the texture just right.
And the flavor? Saxton says they use all-natural syrups made in-house, many of them with real fruit purée. Among the flavors offered: mango, green tea and pineapple. (Adult eaters: “Boozy” is also an option! Think Mai Tai plus guava. Yum.) It’s just sweet enough to taste like dessert, but not so much that it overpowers the refreshing feel of the ice.
After you order, find seating on Marination’s outdoor patio or somewhere nearby with a view of the Seattle skyline. And voilà! Pure summertime bliss.
Prices (before tax): Regular ($6), keiki/kids ($4.75); add Husky Deli Vanilla or Coconut ice cream ($2)
If you can’t make it to Marination Ma Kai, you can also look for Hawaiian-style shave ice at Homefront Smoothies & Espresso (West Seattle/Alki) and goPoké (Chinatown International District).
For something that leans a little more on the sweet side, try the shaved ice — also sometimes called snow ice for its finer texture — found in many parts of East Asia. That style seems to be much more prevalent around Seattle, despite our city being geographically closer to Hawaii. (Saxton guesses space may be an obstacle to selling Hawaiian-style shave ice, since enough room is needed to store large blocks of ice.)
Cafe O’Dessert, in the University District, serves Hong Kong’s style of shaved ice. On the menu, it’s 绵 绵 冰 , literally translated as “soft ice.”
The shaved ice at Cafe O’Dessert isn’t technically ice, though, says owner Kelly Liang; it’s ice cream mixed with milk (and fruit for some flavors) and re-churned out of a machine. The result: a bowl of fluffy, snowlike goodness.
To top it off, you can select from a variety of accouterments, like fruit, mochi, red bean and boba. Th is, she said, is characteristic of the shaved ice you’ll find around Hong Kong and Taiwan. (Note: Sadly, the red bean served here isn’t the azuki bean typical of Asian desserts; it’s actually pinto bean, sweetened, but nonetheless somewhat reminiscent of baked beans.)
Served, the dessert may at first look like an insurmountable amount of food — but don’t worry. The “ice” is airy and much more subtly sweet than ice cream, and a large size becomes easily manageable for two. While I wasn’t a fan of the red bean, the rest of the concoction — sesame, coconut and mango ice, with seasonal melon and mochi toppings as well — came together quite nicely.
Prices (before tax): Small ($4.50) and large ($6.50) include two or three flavors of ice and two toppings; additional toppings ($0.50 each)
For more snowy-textured shaved ice with toppings, you can also try Bambu (Chinatown-International District), Din Tai Fung (multiple locations), Citra (U District) and Facing East (Bellevue).
If you’ve got your own favorite shave(d) ice spots, share them in the comments.