Sukiya’s shaved ice shows they can do more than gyudon.

Japanese restaurant chain Sukiya’s main focus is beef bowls, or gyudon, as they’re called in Japanese. But while its beef bowls are tasty at any time of year, Sukiya realizes that we could all use some extra cooling refreshment as Japan turns into a hot, sweltering furnace during for summer months, and so this year they’ve started offering shaved ice too.

We’re never going to be upset at increased access to shaved ice, but with Sukiya being a fast food chain whose specialty is savory meat dishes, we figured we should keep our expectations low as for how well they’d do with frozen desserts…and now we feel silly for ever having doubted them.

For starters, Sukiya’s shaved ice is surprisingly beautiful. At just 330 yen (US$2.40) it’s less than half the price you’d pay for a similar item at a dedicated dessert cafe, but still with colorful eye-pleasing aesthetics that’ll have you reaching for your camera to snap some pre-snack pics.

We started our taste test with the Pachipachi Cream Soda-flavor shaved ice. Pachipachi is a Japanese onomatopoeia for a popping sensation, and so this dessert features popping candy powder.

As for the color, in Japanese sweets jargon “soda” doesn’t refer to Coke-like cola, but to a kind of light apple/citrus cider. A summertime favorite, “soda” is often colored blue like the summertime sky, and that’s the cool inviting hue of this dessert, which is topped with a scoop of iced whipped cream.

Digging in with our spoon for our first bite, we were happy to find a perfectly balanced grain to the ice. It’s neither shaved down to a powder nor left with big shards that’ll hurt your teeth as you bite through them. It’s in just the right in-between spot, with a pleasant but manageable crunch, and “soda”-flavored candy pellets providing some additional interesting texture, and the popping candy giving a fun jolt with each bite.

The syrup is what makes or breaks shaved ice, though, and we’re happy to report that the Pachipachi Cream Soda’s get full marks. The mix of apple and lime flavors is sweet with just a hint of tartness for a very refreshing result. And if you (like us) are the sort of shaved ice fan who can’t resist eating the most syrup-soaked part of the pile of ice first, don’t worry…

…because Sukiya gives you a cup of additional sauce to pour on whenever you feel like it!

Fully satisfied with our first Sukiya shaved ice, we turned our attention to our second taste-test subject: the Strawberry Milk with Strawberry Syrup shaved ice.

Naturally, this one is aimed at strawberry lovers, and it comes with a generous helping of frozen strawberry bits.

It comes with both strawberry and milk syrup already poured over the ice, but you get an extra cup of strawberry syrup too.

▼ Don’t mind if we do!

By this point our expectations for Sukiya’s shaved ice had climbed sky-high, and the Strawberry Milk with Strawberry Syrup did not disappoint. The presence of so much fruit gave it an upscale feel, like the desserts from those fancy ice cream parlors where they mix things into the cream, and the cup of extra syrup let us adjust as we are for whatever balance of sweet and tart flavors we were in the mood for at that particular instant.

Again at just 330 yen, these felt like delicious bargains, and our only complaint is that we didn’t have room to try Sukiya’s third shaved ice variety, matcha green tea with sweet red beans. That’s something we’ll be rectifying soon, though, since while the shaved ice is a limited-time addition to Sukiya’s menu, it’ll be around for the rest of the summer.

Related: Sukiya location finder
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