I love shave ice. I have traveled to and from Hawaii annually for the past 20 years and always get my fill of shave ice, even trying to hunt down an authentic version of it in LA. When I visit the North Shore, I automatically stop at either Matsumoto's or Aoki's, even though neither holds a candle to the best Honolulu has to offer. It's just what you do in the North Shore.
In Town, my favorite shave ice have always been Waiola first, and then Tropicana Ice. Waiola is definitely better known with their finely shaved, if somewhat skimpy, ice that tastes more like a sorbet than the crunchy Mainland snow cone. Same with Tropicana. In fact I have come to prefer Tropicana over the "Soup Nazi's" at Waiola for their much wider variety of toppings. Both places also have the same problems with parking.
Well I have found a new best shave ice place in Town. Ailana Shave Ice is conveniently located just north (mauka) of Ala Moana Shopping Center along Kona St. in a strip mall that has ample parking. You can also easily walk from Ala Moana. The proprietor is a Japanese man who has actually been a naturalized US citizen for 25 years and took on the name "Gene".
I went on a tip from Yelp just to try it. Walking in, you notice that the water that the ice is made from is filtered for optimal purity, even tho Hawaii has excellent tap water. Then you see that he has a wide selection of healthier choice fruit juice toppings. I have now tried lilikoi, haupia and Cranberry-Raspberry. Substantially fruitier and tastier than your typical fruit syrup flavors. He still has all the traditional syrups, but his homemade concoctions are way more interesting. Other options include a homemade azuki bean, homemade mochi balls and Dave's vanilla ice cream.
You can watch Gene put your entire order together. I ordered the Azuki Bean Lover, which includes mochi balls and the ice cream with condensed milk. Gene expertly shaves some ice into a large bowl, packs it a bit, lays down some azuki, shaves some more ice, then a scoop of the ice cream, more ice, more azuki and layers the mochi balls around it, then even more azuki. I guess you really have to be an azuki lover. Then he sprinkles the condensed milk, and you have a beautiful concoction of shave ice. And the ice is shaved very fine.
Its a real joy watching Gene work. it's an equal joy talking with him. Since he spent time living in LA, we found much in common. but he is a warm human being who takes real interest in the people who come in. Contrast him against the Waiola "Soup Nazis".
Gene is also offering a limited menu of plate lunches in the form of a daily special. But come in, order something exotic and watch him work. It's a truly enjoyable experience. I have less than a week left before going home, I will be coming back, maybe tomorrow.
Ailana Shave Ice
1430 Kona Street, Suite 102
Honolulu, HI 96814