Plenty of places in tropical climes tend to boast a frozen treat hero that quells even the hottest of temps. It's no surprise, then, that shaved ice—whose bare-bones formula is grated-up ice mixed with the likes of fruit or syrup—spans myriad cultures and time zones. Sure, Seattle's got trendy-as-hell frosé and the ultimate theme park staple, Dole Whip, but here's where to seek different iterations of one simply good, icy dessert.
Hawaii: Shave Ice
At the tip of North Admiral, Seattleites’ go-to Hawaiian fusion joint offers generous skyline views across Elliott Bay—a summery spot to delve into traditional shave ice. Add coconut ice cream, if you wish, and perhaps some mini mochi or matcha powder, but one thing is imperative: the housemade syrup. Favorites include a mango-guava combo (topped with toasted coconut, naturally) and tart passion fruit doused in their “awesome sauce.”
We’ve raved about this International District poke shop before—its Pina Dolada (boozy Dole Whip!), fresh-never-frozen bowls of fish and octopus, a wholly American backstory. But the shave ice is also worthy of praise, particularly “Snow Cap,” served with a mound of ice cream, sweetened condensed milk, and li hing mui, the salty, powdered plums that Hawaiian children (okay, and adults) love dusted on their sour candy. The Blue Hawaiian rendition is a top seller, but with liberal portions and bold options like green apple and fruit punch, you might as well share a few.
South Korea: Bingsoo
When temperatures are fully flirting with degrees in the low 70s, flip flops come out and the hunt for anything refreshing whatsoever begins in earnest. In the University District that means a gilded bowl of fluffy, milk-ice shavings—“silky snowy base” in Snowy Village parlance. The international chain’s Korean-style shaved ice, aka bingsoo, is light as air and piled with toppings from mango to strawberry to chocolatey Oreos. But tradition—and it’s a delicious one—calls for sweet red beans, delightfully chewy squares of glutinous rice cakes (injeolmi), and a heavy dusting of roasty soybean powder. —Rosin Saez
A heap of black sesame, homemade rice cakes, red bean paste, and meticulous slivers of almond atop a pillow of ice surmounts to a classic bingsoo. Not your speed? Strawberry cheesecake, green tea, mango, and Oreos are available at this Edmonds shop. While bingsoo is the main attraction, taro lattes and bungeoppang (fish-shaped bread with a red bean filling) may give you another reason to head up north.
Central America: Raspados
A food truck typically found hovering in the Castillos supermarket parking lot just south of Delridge, El Malecon is notorious for its zesty drinks and authentic street food. Diablito de Mango—a treat comprised of shaved ice, mango two ways, tamarind candy straws, and a hit of chile powder seasoning—is just one of the sweets issued from the truck’s service window.
This Bellevue-based, Salvadoran-inspired truck is known for its kickass papusas, but the desserts sure don’t fall short: Funky flavors like spicy mango, tamarind, and even bubble gum (hey, no judgment) give the chunked-up ice a little oomph worthy of the streets of Santa Ana. If you're still unsatiated, fresas con crema (strawberries and cream) and bionico (a snazzy fruit salad) scream satisfaction.
Indonesia: Es Campur
A charming University District coffee shop and Indonesian restaurant, Beetle Cafe sticks to simple, nutritious dishes with adorable leaf-themed plates and eclectic decor. Its shaved ice is equally unequivocal: flavors include strawberry, raspberry, mango, and passionfruit, with red beans, lychee, and mochi as toppings. Paired with vanilla or chocolate chip ice cream, the frozen confection is refreshingly light and shamelessly smooth.
You can rely on the Malaysian tradition of ice kachang (or ais kacang, depending on who you ask) to assuage your sweet tooth. Red beans and palm seed pack the punch in this confection—additional toppings like brown sugar, peanuts, and plum seed seal the sweet, sweet, deal.
Taiwan/China: Bao Bing
Sierras of thinly cut coconut and condensed milk rivers cap the frozen delights at this Little Saigon find. While it may not look like it from the outside, the Taiwanese eatery blasts out towering treats—thick toasts topped with ice cream and fruit, or in this case, frozen mounds of strawberry-mango or green tea. Finishing touches can range from sweet potato dumplings to cut berries.
Dive into the University District dessert bar’s chilled, make-it-yourself snack—whether lychee boba with sesame or watermelon with sago call your name, there are plenty of options. Think 165 flavor combinations and 120 topping combinations. (If you figure out how many times you would have to go in order to eat them all, let us know. Also, we are concerned.) Get your fluffy mounds of ice atop a bubble waffle if you are feeling particularly ambitious.
Tucked around a corner in South Lake Union, this Japanese curry house is far from being a dessert shop—you may just have to order some curry udon or gyoza to see what they're really all about. Nonetheless, an aggregation of strawberry syrup and condensed milk make the gratifyingly crunchy ice essentially an elevated snow cone. On those rare, hot Seattle days take it to-go and enjoy kakigori’s cooling ways under the shade at nearby Denny Park.
Among the offbeat edible creations that have fully embraced the matcha trend, this treat is one of the least disconcerting. The piles of housemade adzuki beans, shiratama (a type of mochi), and vanilla ice cream doused in matcha syrup come colossal. The downtown dessert spot in Westlake Center also crowns its icy mounds with additions like gold leaf, bubble waffles, and the occasional macaron.
Pandan jelly, mung beans, basil seed, and longan (in the lychee family of fruits) barely scratch the surface of ingredients used in Vietnamese-style shaved ice, which structurally falls between pudding and a beverage. While coconut is a given, there are certainly options for every palate—taro lovers, fruit fiends, and avocado advocates all have a distinct favorite. Spots in Chinatown, the U District, and Bellevue have your juice-slash-tea-slash-chè needs met.
Fresh fruit is the star of the Beacon Hill dessert counter’s shaved ice concoctions. Mango chunks, multifarious melons, crystal boba, and grass jelly meld with taro or red bean syrups and creams to achieve ultimate frozen fruition. Dessert soups also look intriguing—wolfberry, lotus seed, and jujube are brought to the liquefied fore.
The Philippines: Halo-Halo
This iconic fried chicken institution has delivered a sliver of the Philippines to Tukwila, perhaps without the expectation of being applauded for their post-meal accompaniment. Bean heavy and garnished with shredded tender coconut, the traditional Filipino dish is properly assembled in bowls bursting with colorful add-ons like green gelatin and cubes of silky-smooth leche flan. Enhance the already loaded halo-halo by asking for a free-handed drenching of evaporated milk.
Inside the Southcenter Mall, this Filipino fast food joint behind the epochal fried chicken, spaghetti, and mango pie combo also serves up halo-halo. The Philippines’ signature hot weather snack consists of a parfait-like assembly of violet-hued ube (purple yam) ice cream married with garbanzo, mung, and white beans, jackfruit and banana, plus caramel flan. It’s a masterpiece that the late Anthony Bourdain once deemed “oddly beautiful.” Additional toppings include the traditional, like shredded cheese and corn, to essentials like mango and star apple.
It's no secret that Seattleites love coffee—hot, cold, saturated with booze—so why not semi-frozen, sweetened, and spoon- or sippable? With three local addresses, there's no excuse not to venture outside your typical latte or americano. Plop down at the bar, then slurp and savor the espresso-forward taste of Italy.
While hardly classifiable as having a shaved construction, the liquid decadence that is Migliore’s granita has deservedly fought its way onto this list. Robust espresso is paired with sweet cream and sugar, then blended delightfully to a velvety consistency. The downtown location is inviting—cozy upholstered benches accompany towering ceilings with sophisticated lighting—and if the weather decides to cooperate, a courtyard laden with greenery is waiting right out the door.