My Favorite Waffles on O‘ahu
Martha Cheng’s picks for the best waffles from Waialua to Honolulu.
Waffles or pancakes? It’s a decision I always—ahem—waffle on. But waffles are rarer: Almost every breakfast spot will have pancakes, but not waffles, since the latter requires special equipment. So they feel just a little more special.
And here are four places where the waffles feel extra extra special, where I always order the waffles.
Wicked HI Café
I am slightly less likely to surf the North Shore on Tuesdays because Wicked HI Cafe in Waialua is closed those days. Its sourdough liege waffles are my favorite post-surf snack, caramelized on the outside, slightly tangy from a long fermentation, a little bit chewy—like brioche smooshed into a waffle iron—and studded with crunchy pearl sugar. They are perfect plain, or with a little melted butter and maple syrup, but you can gild the lily by adding fruit or even bacon, egg and cheddar if you like both salty and sweet for breakfast.
Too often, Belgian waffles are cakey or dense or—horrors—soft. Not at Cafe Kaila, where they are airy, delicate and crisp, so light that it feels like I inhale one in a few minutes flat. But maybe other people do, too, which explains how the line outside Cafe Kaila seems to move fantastically fast. If you’re feeling extravagant, you can pile on the fruit options (strawberries, bananas, blueberries), though that turns it into a $20-plus waffle. Just think of it like a caviar supplement! But Cafe Kaila’s waffle is still a beautiful thing plain or with just one additional fruit to balance the maple syrup.
I didn’t expect much from this unassuming vendor inside Palama Market on Makaloa, but it was a surprise hit, with shatteringly crisp yet light waffles. It borrows a crepe stand format (are waffles the new crepes?), with light and crispy thin waffles folded over fillings like Nutella and strawberry, peanut butter and banana, or azuki, with a smear of whipped topping. Made to order and served straight from the waffle iron, adding azuki paste to it reminds me of hot and fresh taiyaki that I used to get with my grandma, and which is surprisingly rare these days. Now, when I need a waffle snack, or to relive those memories, I will head here.
About $7, inside Palama Market, 672 Makaloa St.
Speaking of unassuming, the plain waffle at Liliha Bakery shocks me every time with its simplicity. It’s a thin waffle, so crispy it almost tastes fried. The hefty smear of salted butter on top (at least at the original Liliha—you’ll find a more dainty dollop at the other locations) combined with the syrup makes every bite salty-sweet perfection. I have a handful of favorite menu items at Liliha but this one is the absolute best.