First we went to what we were familiar with. Matsumoto's. The line was long, but the service was pretty quick. You can order a plain shave ice, or shave ice with ice cream, or shave ice with Azuki beans (sweet Japanese beans), or shave ice with ice cream and Azuki beans. Then you decide what flavors you want for your shave ice.
My daughter asked for a plain shave ice with blueberry and pineapple flavors. Hubby and I shared the Hawaiian Special (pineapple, coconut, and banana) with ice cream and topped with condensed milk. We enjoyed our shave ice on the benches outside the shop.
Adding the condensed milk and ice cream made our shave ice so creamy and full of flavor. I think shave ice tastes best with them. So yummy. Unfortunately, my daughter dropped her shave ice. But they were kind enough to replace hers for free. I guess this must happen a lot. After enjoying our shave ice, we went back inside the shop and do some shopping. Hubby always buys a souvenir T-shirt from here, as well as gifts for some folks back home.
Next day, we decided to check out Aoki's. The line at Aoki's was equally long. They have a similar way of ordering: plain, with ice cream, with Azuki Beans or both. They also had a shop inside where they also sold souvenir t-shirts and other nick-knacks. But we opted out of those.
Hubby and I shared the Tropical flavors (which I forgot what flavors they were) with ice cream and topped with Li Hing Mui (the sweet and salty flavoring found in a dried salted plum). The Li Hing Mui gave a great balance to the sweetness of the ice cream and shave ice.
The verdict: Though the flavors were both equally good, it all came down to the texture of the ice. Operating for 60 years, Matsumoto's really knows how to shave their ice. Maybe its the old machine that they've used for 60 years. But their ice is so much finer than Aoki's. There really is a difference. Matsumoto's ice literally melts in your mouth. Aoki's tends to have the crunch factor in theirs.
One might say that Matsumoto's is where all the tourists go to, so they go to Aoki's. Others just like Matsumoto's for the mere quality of the ice. I guess its a matter of preference. But whatever choice you make, make sure to eat your shave ice with a holder. Its the best advice anyone can give whenever eating shave ice. Its the best 50 cent investment you'll make :)