I take snow cones—one of the world’s most whimsical foods—very, very seriously.
Like any good neurosis, I think it stems from childhood. I grew up in Frisco, a then-small town north of Dallas where The Snow Cone Lady was a local celebrity. Her stand was the only place to go to get your sweet, icy fix on a hot summer night. It wasn’t summer until The Snow Cone Lady opened her stand in the gas station parking lot, and it would be summer until she closed down, even if it was well into the school year.
Basically, the seasons were determined not by the weather or the time of year, but by the presence or absence of snow cones.
Given my history, it should come as no surprise that I’ve taken it upon myself to scour the city for the best of the best in the world of sugar highs and brain freezes. Come to find out, Austin has an impressive inventory of snow cone stands, shops, carts, and trucks. This will be my tenth summer in Austin, and I have yet to try every snow cone in town.
My decade-long taste test continues this summer. But for now, here’s a list of some of my favorites so far.
1. Sweet Caroline’s Snow Shack
Family-run Sweet Caroline’s slings New Orleans-style snowballs, which are lighter and fluffier than your standard snow cone.I have to admit, I immediately noticed the fineness of the ice, which melts immediately after hitting your tongue.
While most places just offer a wide variety of flavors and leave any sort of creative mixing up to the customer, Sweet Caroline’s has done the work for you. Their combinations include the Pink Lady (a New Orleans-derived combination of nectar and cream), Hawaiian Wedding (a mix of blue coconut, piña colada, wedding cake, and cream), and Texas Two Step (cherry and cola).
Based on the employee’s recommendation, I went with the Sweet Caroline (coconut, strawberry, and cream), which was absolutely glorious. I enjoyed my treat underneath the twisted oak trees at their Slaughter Lane location, but you can find them all across town. Check out their locations and hours here.
2. Casey’s New Orleans Snowballs
This list would not be complete without Casey’s New Orleans Snowballs, another family-run, Louisiana-inspired snowball stand that has been around town since 1996.
Much like my experience at Sweet Caroline’s, I noticed the ice at Casey’s was almost as good as the flavor of the snowball itself. If made to choose a favorite, I think my vote would go to chocolate, which can also be kicked up about 1,000 notches by combining it with a custard syrup and cream to make the Boston Cream Pie snowball.
You really can’t go wrong, though, since Casey’s makes all of their syrups in-house at their 51st Street stand. Check out their full story here.
3. Jim-Jim’s Water Ice
Jim-Jim’s is another mid-nineties Austin original, with a brick-and-mortar location on East Sixth and concession stands at Deep Eddy and Barton Springs Pools.
Jim-Jim’s serves water ice, which I’m told is all the rage in Philadelphia. Instead of pouring syrup on top of shaved ice, water ice (also known as Italian ice) is made by blending fruit with fine ice, which then undergoes another freezing.
Whatever the process entails is worth it. I had a coconut cream water ice, while my Pennsylvania-hailing friend Elyse went for watermelon gelati, which is best described as what happens when a snow cone eats an ice cream cone. Both were fast-melting, but crazy good, with a slightly different flavor than a typical snow cone, thanks to the real fruit they use.
Check out all of what Jim-Jim’s has to offer here.
I knew I wanted to end my list with Sno-Beach, the very first snow cone I had when I moved to Austin. Among all the different variations around town, Sno-Beach remains true to the snow cones I and many other native Texans grew up on. Their ice is shaved, but extremely fine, so you won’t get a cup of what tastes like pea-sized hail. Their flavors range from traditional (cotton candy, Tiger’s Blood, green sour apple) to more innovative (coffee, horchata, sweet tea) to totally nuts (almond).
Don’t end your summer without stopping by one of their two locations on Barton Springs or on the UT campus, and read more about their background and extensive charitable work here.
In your opinion, who has the best snow cones in Austin?