Why you should care
Because this ridiculously yummy shave ice is worth every single one of the 700 pennies it costs.
I had just gotten a massive fish-filled poké bowl from Makai Sushi inside a local supermarket in Poipu, on the Hawaiian island Kauai. I thought my day couldn’t get any better, even by Hawaiian standards. But then I saw the shave ice stand. My mouth started watering. The roadside signs advertising Technicolor shave ice had in fact taunted me for days. Was this the moment of reckoning?
Finally, I stopped at the wooden stand in the parking lot: Loco Coco.
Although tiny, the stand was meticulously constructed and freshly lacquered. I stepped up to the chin-height window and ordered a half-lychee half-coconut shave ice — and then realized it cost $7. For a split second I was irritated by the high price. If, like me, your only point of reference are those icy snow cones of childhood, swimming in bright syrup ($3 for the fancy flavors), you too would have some sticker shock.
But then I tasted it. These concoctions are the craft cocktails of ice treats: handmade with extra-tropical treats. The mound of shave ice melted in my mouth like fresh powder snow the morning after an overnight dusting. The syrups, perfectly sweet, were accented with bits of fresh fruit and a coconut-cream drizzle. My mind was blown. Most. Delicious. Shave. Ice. Ever. Yelp reviewers describe it as the “best shave ice in the Pacific,” with “next level” taste. One person says it’s “like eating sorbet.” But if you really want to go big before you go home, you can add a scoop of ice cream on the bottom or try the signature Loco Coco — a coconut-flavored shave ice with pineapple bits and that coco-cream drizzle on top, served in a hollowed-out coconut.
The owner-operator, Thomas Oliver, opened up shop just three months earlier, he says. He makes a fitting character for the tropical scene and island vibes — the quintessential laid-back Hawaiian surfer dude, at least from a mainlander’s perspective. As he prepped my soon-to-be new favorite dessert-slash-snack, he told me how he makes his own syrups from pureed fresh fruit — no artificial sweeteners or preservatives here — and uses honey from his own backyard beehive. The entrepreneur started out selling cold coconuts, hence the name, and uses climbing gear to shimmy up palm trees to snag the goods himself.
In case you’re too embarrassed to ask, I’ll answer the burning question I know you have: What is the difference between a snow cone and shave ice? Semantics, right? Wrong. A snow cone is made from crushed ice, while shave ice — apparently a very Hawaiian thing — is made from, you guessed it, shaving a block of ice. “I’ve never had a snow cone, but I hear it’s much grittier ice, where shave ice is really fine, smooth, just a melt-in-your-mouth sensation,” says Oliver. And though it is made from ice that is shaved, it is indeed called shave ice.
After sorting these conundrums out and recovering from my (all-natural) sugar high, I proceeded to spend the rest of my vacation asking everyone I met: HAVE YOU TRIED THE SHAVE ICE IN POIPU?! Definitely not restraining my feelings for my new tasty obsession. At least one person listened: my mom. She went back twice.