These light and downright lush desserts get tricked out with enticing toppings and mix-ins, many taking their cues from Asian favorites such as red beans, mochi balls, and lychee. But they also can be as traditional as orangesicle and strawberry shortcake. Here are six places in Orange County to get your brain-freeze on.
1. Snow Station
This Asian-style shaved ice shop often is packed with young customers lined up for giant platters of billowy snow desserts. Find a variety of toppings such as poppers, liquid-filled pearls in assorted flavors that burst in your mouth. Go for the half-taro, half-green tea with red beans, green tea mochi, and lychee poppers. For a fruity specialty, there’s the Berrylicious, left: strawberry snow with pound cake, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and peanuts with chocolate and strawberry syrup. $3.25 to $9.50. Locations in Buena Park, Tustin, and Westminster
2. Hula Girls Shave Ice
This is the closest thing to real Hawaiian shave ice—yes, islanders call it “shave” ice—you’ll find in O.C. The portions are generous so expect a towering mound. More than 25 syrups are all house-made without high-fructose corn syrup: blue raspberry, orange dreamsicle, root beer, and lychee, to name a few. Best-sellers include the Hawaiian Sunset, with guava, mango, pineapple, passion fruit, and strawberry syrup. Try it over homemade coconut macadamia nut ice cream. It’s a tropical dream. $3.50 to $4.50, toppings extra. 16556 Bolsa Chica St., Huntington Beach, 949-295-0292, hulagirlsshaveice.com
3. Class 302 Cafe
Bring a friend, or three. You’ll need help to finish a basketball-sized bowl of Taiwanese-style shaved snow dessert called xue hua bing. Instead of fine granules, the frozen condensed milk is sheared into airy sheets piled high in a bowl with your choice of add-ins ranging from fresh fruit to boba. Must-orders include the mango shaved ice, which comes with chunks of fresh mango, chewy mochi balls, condensed milk, and, if you’d like, slivers of egg pudding. $7.50 to $9, cash only. 18090 Culver Drive, Irvine, 949-552-0555
4. Fluff Ice
Plenty of shops offer Asian-inspired flavors, but the Thai iced tea shaved ice tastes just like the strongly-brewed drink, only in velvety, frozen form. The crowd favorite is the Sa Wat Dee, with a Thai iced tea base, egg pudding, and lychee jelly strips. Almond-flavored shaved ice, too. Just the right amount of sweetness, but nothing that inspires a toothache. $3.50 to $6. 1500 Adams Ave., Costa Mesa, 714-782-2164, fluffice.com
5. Sticky Fingers
Throngs of ’tweens hang out at this longtime candy shop, but in the back you’ll find a great spot for old-school Hawaiian-style shave ice. Try a scoop of Thrifty ice cream as your base, before it’s topped with a compacted ball of finely shaved ice and doused with as many as three syrups. Add a drizzle of condensed milk for extra creamy goodness. It’s like eating freshly fallen snow drenched in sweetness. $3 to $6. 4612 Barranca Parkway, Irvine, 949-651-1137
Find New Orleans-style ultra-powdery shaved ice here: A scoop of ice cream is tucked into each sno-ball (as they call it in Louisiana) and there are more than 40 snow flavors to choose from, including chocolate-covered cherry, spiced chai, root beer float, orangesicle, and strawberry shortcake. Ask for red velvet with chocolate chip ice cream instead of the standard vanilla. Each spoonful melts the instant it hits your tongue. Pay a bit more and you get Fosselman’s ice cream instead of Thrifty’s. $3 to $6. 10670 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos, 562-598-7580
Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue.