Some call it snow cream, fluff ice, milk fluff or milk snow. In Taiwanese, it's xue hua bing, which literally translates to "snow flower" (a.k.a. snowflake) ice. Whatever you call it, you will rejoice at the cool surprise of Taiwanese shaved ice, especially on a scorching Southern California day. Xue hua bing was exported out of Taipei in the 1990s, but we haven't seen it on our shores until the last couple of years. It's made by freezing milk with a variety of different flavors or mix-ins in cylinders. Then, a special machine shaves the ice into paper-thin ribbons or shreds. The texture of the "snow" depends on a variety of factors such as the ingredients, the amount of cream or milk, and how frozen the block is. Each shaved ice location has its own flavors, extra touches and specialties.
The joint that started it all, Class 302 serves Taiwanese fast food at its best. Its tables and chairs are straight from a Taiwanese classroom, and its menu is written in Chinese characters on a giant chalkboard on the back wall. But the draw here are the giant mounds of xue hua bing that cause lines out the door. The Golden Mango Mochi is the head of the class. Ribbons of frozen mango sheets drip with condensed milk. A chilled surprise of milk pudding hides in the middle of the golden avalanche, while giant chunks of sweet mango and warm chewy rice cakes complete the entire package. All of the giant shaved ice dishes are the same price, making it easy to navigate the menu. Bring a friend or three to share. Class 302's three locations are in Irvine, Cerritos and Rowland Heights. 1015 S. Nogales St., Rowland Heights, (626) 965-5809.
Pa Pa Walk
Hidden in one of the ubiquitous strip malls on Valley Boulevard, Pa Pa Walk can be easily overlooked, especially since the sign is only in Chinese, and the foot-themed name and decor do not necessarily foretell deliciousness. Put all your assumptions aside and grab a seat at one of the Formica tables for a traditional take on xue hua bing. Some may swear by their mango shaved ice, but the green tea is one of the better green teas in town. The red bean and rice balls add something extra to the fluffy, snowy texture. But the tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream is the proverbial icing on the frozen cake. 227 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 281-3889.
Tucked amongst a Wing Stop, a Panera Bread and a T-Mobile store, I-Sweet is a diminutive dessert shop on the periphery of the Puente Hills Mall. Its specialties are organic ingredients and fresh fruit. The most popular flavor, the fried peanut snow, is a marriage of ice and creamy peanut butter. If they've run out of the nutty goodness, opt for one of their fruit flavors. The strawberry cream is made from a strawberry snow on the outside with whole fruit and cream in the core. Once shaven, the presentation is a mix of pink, white and strawberries for a refreshing surprise of light fruit, milk and tartness in every bite. 17501 Colima Road, #F, City of Industry, (626) 964-4982, www.isweet.us.
Snow LA Shavery
A decidedly Korean take on the Taiwanese import, Snow LA Shavery is a cute little shop in a KTown mini mall. The free valet parking can be a little on the insane side, but it's worth navigating the local traffic. They have the usual milk, green tea and strawberry flavors, but also flavors such as black sesame, pistachio, caramel coffee, chocolate and banana — a vegan alternative made with almond milk, real bananas and a bit of coconut. The Misugaru is based on a Korean drink made from grinding five grains. It's light, nutty and more fluffy than creamy. The best part is the DIY dry and wet toppings bar with plenty of popping boba, fruit, chocolate, nuts and caramel sauce to sate your various sweet teeth. 3470 W. 6th St., No. 2B, Los Angeles, (213) 382-1790, www.snowlashavery.com.
The happy cloud logo belies Fluff Ice's shaved desserts. Like its name suggests, the stuff is more fluffy than creamy, and they have some unusual flavors not found at other places, such as Thai tea, almond, kiwi and taro. Opt for one of their pre-made combos or choose from their toppings such as baby gummy bears, espresso jelly or cheesecake bites. Have them drizzle some of the usual condensed milk on top or go hog wild with some of their house syrup — a combination of caramel and brown sugar. They're the only ones that have a fluff ice drink as well, which makes for interesting texture combinations of shaved ice and boba. Locations in Monrovia, Costa Mesa, and Monterey Park, and a truck. 500 N. Atlantic Blvd., No. 153, Monterey Park, (626) 872-2123, www.fluffice.com.
Thank goodness for complimentary validated parking, or else we may never be able to get in line for this popular Westside snow cream place. Blockheads is one of the few shaved ice places on this side of town. The only reason to brave the line is for the black sesame flavor or one of the rotating seasonal ices. Avoid the green tea, which is powdery and takes away from the snow drift mouth feel we're looking for in our xue hua bing. There is also location in Alhambra with no line. 11311 Mississippi Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 445-8725, www.blockheadsla.com.