Cafe Waiola: Perfect Pastries and Coffee in the Unlikeliest of Places

Lately, I've been telling people to go to the cafeteria of the John Burns School of Medicine for pastries and coffee. Yes, a cafeteria. So what if it doesn't look like any of the achingly cool cafes in Los Angeles, San Francisco or Portland? Here, you'll find blackberry and almond croissants, raisin snails, brioche or some other pastry perfection, paired with terrific coffee.

Two obsessives—Sumner Ohye of The Curb and Chris Sy of Breadshop—teamed up to offer this craft coffeeshop experience at the medical school. The two met at The Curb pop-up at Ala Moana, and when Ohye took over the medical school cafeteria contract (he also runs The Curb at UH Manoa), he called Sy.

From the 360-degree coffee counter in the middle of the cafeteria, Café Waiola serves coffee and espresso using beans from boutique roasters Four Barrel and Intelligentsia. And in the pastry case are flaky, buttery croissants—from traditional plain ones to new flavors including citrus and black sesame, and taegu and spinach (the latter combination an accidental discovery when a shortage of prosciutto led Sy to taegu, which works marvelously in a sweet/salty/intense umami sort of way).

You can also get Sy's stellar bread here. Sy is no longer driving across the Pali in the middle of the night to bake bread, snatching sleep on Prima's benches in between dough risings. Now, at the medical school cafeteria, with ovens and a work space to call his own, he's expanded his Breadshop portfolio to include delicate pastries. On Saturday, when the cafeteria side closes, he experiments with more substantial savory offerings—the other week, it was focaccia so good that a customer bought the entire tray after one taste.

Come here often enough, and you'll forget the lights are fluorescent and scrubs outnumber skinny jeans. All that melts away in the face of good food and drink.

Cafe Waiola is open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Breadshop bread and pastries are available Tuesday through Saturday.