Kakigori, or Japanese shave ice, is inherently ephemeral. It won’t keep for longer than it takes you to eat it; its soft, snowy shaven ice crystals will harden in a freezer or melt in the fridge. The pile of juice, tea, or syrup-drizzled ice is often stacked tall and precarious, requiring thoughtful scoops to retain its structural integrity. Eating kakigori forces you to focus and savor, to taste the lingering flavor of sweet cream or matcha or coffee syrup as ice dissolves on your tongue.
As a kid, hot days didn’t actually call for ice cream in my house — a heavy dairy treat never really appealed to me after a day in the sun. Instead, I sucked on popsicles, licked cones of sorbet, dug into cups of Italian ice. It wasn’t until I got to college that I fell in love with shave ice desserts — Indonesian es campur, Filipino halo halo, Taiwanese tshuah-ping. And when I moved to Portland, each summer required frequent visits to Wailua Shave Ice for Hawaiian shave ice, topped with a dollop of haupia foam.
But for me, this is the summer of kakigori, or Japanese shave ice. It’s something about the light, snowy texture that has felt so soothing during heat waves, whether it’s one of the more elaborate takes on the dessert or a simple mound of ice topped with fruit syrup. Below, you’ll find a few of my favorite kakigori options, available around town:
Within Courier Coffee, at 923 SW Oak Street.
This pop-up within a downtown coffee shop serves a wide range of Japanese snacks, but it attracted a large portion of its following thanks to its selection of kakigori. The ice here hews more snowy as opposed to feathery, and the shop offers a wide variety of options for those stopping in. A standing list of elaborate bowls — incorporating matcha, adzuki beans, and tofu mochi — are available on most visits, but the specials, which often involve house-made syrups and seasonal fruit, are almost always the best move.
1818 NW 23rd Place
Considering Phuket Cafe is technically a Thai restaurant, its kakigori may be the best thing on the menu. Phuket’s ice is on the featherier side of things, little petals drizzled with coffee or rhubarb syrup. The kakigori here is certainly intricate, often including other dessert components like toasted brioche, panna cotta, or brown sugar meringue. However, nothing feels out of place or overdone, overshadowing the elegance of the ice itself.
Matcha Cafe Maiko
3416 SE Cesar Estrada Chavez Blvd.
The Portland outpost of this matcha chain serves a lovely ujikintoki, a specific Japanese shave ice made with matcha and adzuki beans. Little squishy shiratama dango, or mochi balls, stay perched on the side, with condensed milk for sweetness. For those seeking a little ice cream as well, Maiko offers a variety of sundae-esque shave ice options with matcha soft serve at the center.