Shave Ice at Waiola and Ice Garden
Everyone has "their" shave ice spot, but mine is a tie between the very famous Waiola's, and Ice Garden in Aiea. Pictured is the Azuki Bowl from Waiola's. It goes like this: one mountain of super fine powdery shave ice doused in two syrup flavors...they have a huge menu of syrup choices (I love lilikoi, green tea, calpico, li hing mui, and lychee)! Then comes a pour of azuki beans and soft mochi. I often add sweetened condensed milk and/or ice cream to my order. It is incredible. At Ice Garden, tucked in the 2nd floor of the Aiea Shopping Center, get
Custard Shave Ice—an overflowing bowl of shave ice, no syrup and lots of sweetened condensed milk, a heafty scoop of mochi balls and homemade custard. They do the best custards of any shave ice place on the island.
Waiola Shave Ice: 2135 Waiola Street, Honolulu, HI 96826 (map); 808-949-2269;
Ice Garden: 99-080 Kauhale Street, Aiea Shopping Center, Aiea, HI 96701 (map); 808-488-5154
Saint Germain's Butterflake Roll
Saint Germain is a local Japanese bakery with multiple locations throughout the island. The pastries here are so good that I got a part-time job here in high school just so that I could eat pastries (after hours of course!) for free. Baked in muffin tins, the Butterflake Roll is exactly as the name promises, many flaky, butter-rich layers of yeasty pastry that you can easily pull apart with your fingers. The top is a deep brown, delicate and crisp with a sweet finish. Perfect for those moments when you want something sweet, but not excessively so. Bonus! Can also replace croissant cravings.
Avocado Smoothies at Thang's
There is only one avocado smoothie I am forever loyal to and it can be found at Thang's in Chinatown. Their avocado smoothies are truly works of art, each pale green concoction containing half a ripe (this is very important!) avocado, a luxurious pour of sweetened condensed milk, whole milk and crushed ice. It's thick, yet refreshing, and true to flavor from the first sip to the last. Boba is optional; I opt out when I want it simple and pure, and opt in when I want to turn this into a meal (the portion size is huge). Other places in Hawai'i do avocado smoothies, but no one does it like Thang's.
Thang Coffee & Bubble Tea: 1120 Maunakea Street, Maunakea Marketplace, Honolulu, Hawaii 96817 (map); 808-524-3409
Bubbies Mochi Ice Cream
You can buy Bubbies Mochi Ice Cream throughout the US (Whole Foods carries it in the freezer section). But for the complete experience you should go to the Honolulu location, where you can purchase them by the piece. There are twenty different flavors running from Guava to Pistachio. The ones that always seem to be the biggest hits at local gatherings are Lychee, Green Tea, and Sakura. Each sweet is a three-bite glory with a soft mochi wrapped around the corresponding ice cream flavor. Keep an eye out for seasonal flavors, and while you're there, might as well pick up a slice or two of their signature ice cream cakes and pies.
Sweet Bread from Ani's Bake Shop
Sweet Bread is something all local kids grow up with, and doesn't seem to exist by the same name anywhere else. Picture the love child of brioche and challah with a soft, slightly sticky top. It's the best of both worlds, coupling the feather-light buttery feel of brioche with challah's eggy richness. Sweet Bread is quite a sight to see—a golden round, fluffy with a sweet crumb that melts just a tad too easily on your mouth. You can find Ani's Sweet Bread at their original location and at many local supermarkets such as Foodland, Times, and Marukai.
Ani's Bake Shop: 99840 Iwaiwa Street, Honolulu, HI 96813 (map); 808-488-2193
Dessert Drinks at La Palme D'Or
La Palme D'Or is an exquisite little patisserie, and while cakes and pastries are most popular, the dessert drinks are irresistible. Jelly au Lait (pictured) is made up of coffee jelly topped by a ring of whipped cream and housemade chocolate milk. Break up the soft jelly into little pieces using your straw and sip away. You have the option of replacing the chocolate milk with regular milk (whole milk only) or soymilk. They also make a similar concoction using pineapple jelly in place of coffee jelly, and pairing it with plantation iced tea. Also keep your eyes out for the Lava Flow—a blend of fresh strawberry puree, condensed milk, and ice.
My favorite malassadas are found at the annual carnival hosted by my alma mater, Punahou. Unfortunately the Punahou Carnival is open only two days in the first weekend of February. If you're lucky enough to visit Hawai'i during that time period, go! If not, don't fret. Malassada cravings can be satisfied at Leonard's Bakery or Champion Malasadas. Malasadas are fried to order at both bakeries. In addition to regular malasadas, Leonard Bakery's offers stuffed malasadas filled with custard (pictured), haupia, or dobash cream. If this if your first time trying malassadas, get the classic, unstuffed number. And then you can come back for stuffed one. Because one malasada is never enough.
Local Fruits: Mango, Avocado, and Papaya
Luckily for us, some for best sweets on the island are also the healthiest: fresh local fruits. Nowhere else in the world can you find papayas, mangoes, and avocados like the ones in Hawai'i. I pick my avocados off our neighbor's tree, and mangoes and papayas are gifted from friends. But as for where to purchase them? Head (very early) to the KCC Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings and stock up on the best of the bunch.
Coco Puffs at Liliha Bakery
Coco Puffs are legendary. Though the prices have gone up each year, and the size seems to shrink with each visit, I love them all the same. Liliha Bakery churns out and sells 4,800-7,200 pieces a day—mind-boggling! It starts with your standard choux pastry, elevated with a cool, thick and super creamy chocolate pudding. On the top is a hefty dose of local chantilly (I say 'local' because 'chantilly' on the East Coast is something completely different). This chantilly is buttery, tinged with just the right touch of salt, yolky and creamy like no other. Imagine German cake frosting, minus shredded coconut and nuts, and throw in about six times as much whipped butter.
Three favorite spots to get local mochi. First, Nisshodo (pictured), an old-school mochi factory in Kalihi. They are justly famous for the superbly soft and tender chi chi dango. This place is always sold out during the holiday seasons with families placing bulk mochi orders in advance. Nisshodo does a huge variety of mochi and I love them all. Second, Happy Hearts Mochi, which only does mochi to order, so you should plan ahead. Their fresh strawberry and azuki bean daifuku is killer, as are the chocolate and haupia-filled ones. And then, because you can't leave Honolulu without a visit to the KCC Farmer's Market, pick up mochi by Saturday's Grandma—don't pass on the lilikoi cheesecake and the sweet potato haupia mochi.
Nisshodo: 1095 Dillingham Blvd #15, Honolulu, HI 96817 (map); 808-847-1244