Sweet Treats in Honolulu

photo: olivier koning

Everyone knows about Leonard’s malassadas, Liliha Bakery’s coco puffs, Bubbies’ mochi ice cream, Ted’s Bakery’s chocolate haupia pies; they’re all household names and potluck favorites. But an entire world of sweets exists outside of these mainstays, sweets that may not make cameos on Hawaii Five-0, but still elicit joy when presented at a party, even if it’s a party of one on the couch. Here are a few of our favorite confections.

"I consider myself the Doughnut King,” says Jessie Salvador, general manager and creator of Regal Bakery’s cheerful cake doughnut concoctions, which include li hing pineapple, green tea, vanilla crunch (a vanilla doughnut topped with cornflakes), lemon crumb (a lemon cake doughnut with lemon icing and lemon streusel) and “Da Kreyz,” a glorious melding of doughnut and crème brûlée.

Donuts channeling cupcake creative energy have been a trend on the Mainland for a few years now, but Salvador is the first to bring nouveau cake donuts to Hawaii. “Everybody loves doughnuts, that’s what I know,” he says. Not that everyone agreed with him at first, particularly his wife, who protested that no one eats doughnuts in Hawaii. Still, Salvador made plans to leave his employer, Regal Foods, which also owns Regal Diner, to pursue his own doughnut business. But rather than lose him, Regal Foods gave Salvador free license in its new retail bakeshop, Regal Bakery. Two months later, the bakery had transformed into an all-doughnut showcase, with cake doughnuts front and center, though the maple bacon yeast doughnut occasionally steals the show. These days, fans are proving Salvador’s wife wrong, crowding this industrial corner by the airport to sample his creations. Doughnuts range from 90 cents to $2. 3040 Ualena St., 834-4423.


from Downtown Coffee

Downtown Coffee understands that great coffee needs great sweets. Its yuzu orange bar ($3.54) plays bright citrus flavors against a chocolate crust, while the matcha and bamboo charcoal torte ($3.54) is subtly sweet (and purportedly healthy). 900 Fort Street Mall, Suite 100, 599-5353.

photos: david croxford

Spanish Bread

from Nanding’s Bakery

At first glance, they look like Olive Garden bread rolls, down to the cornmeal dusting on top, but a bite into fresh Spanish bread (three for $1) from Nanding’s Bakery yields a sweet, buttery filling. Two locations: 918 Gulick Ave., 841-4731, and 94-216 Farrington Highway, Waipahu, 678-0828.


Cake Pops

by Sweet as Sugar

What could be cuter than bite-sized cake fashioned as lollipops? These dense, moist cake balls dipped in chocolate come in such flavors as mint chocolate, caramel apple, coconut and guava. $2.95 each. Available at Ala Moana and Royal Hawaiian Center Island Vintage Coffee locations and by pre-order, sasugar808.blogspot.com.


Animal Bread

from Watanabe Bakery

The turtle an pan tend to sell out early, so snag them when you can, but Watanabe’s soft, sweet animal breads ($1.89 each) come in equally adorable shapes with various fillings such as the elephant bread, filled with custard, the bunny with apples and the choco-bear.  2065 S. Beretania St., 946-1074.


from Ono Pops

Exuberantly creative, OnoPops’ paletas riff on classic local flavors such as POG and guava chiffon cake, while also forging surprising flavor combinations such as Kava Coco Water and Kalamansi Coriander. $3 each. Available at Foodland, Whole Foods and multiple farmers’ markets, call 354-2949 or visit onopops.com for locations.



from Shirokiya

Shirokiya’s newly renovated Meika Plaza stocks a variety of sweets, many imported from Japan, like the baumkuchen ($25), with up to 20 crepe-thin concentric rings of cake. The effect is soft and buttery rich. Ala Moana Center, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd. # 2250, 973-9111, shirokiya.com.

Rice Pudding

at Tangö Market

Tangö turns rice to riches in its luscious rice pudding cup ($3.95). Make sure to dig deep with your spoon for the berry compote at the bottom. 1200 Ala Moana Blvd.,
596-4888, tangomarket.com


Mochi bread

from Boulangerie Bakery

It’s all in the texture: Somewhere between bread and mochi, this chewy yet light mochi bread ($1.39) is speckled with black sesame seeds. 1495 S. King St., #103, 949-1588.

Chocolate Dipped Bacon

from EAT

A few of the shops we’ve listed incorporate bacon into their sweet treats, but only EAT serves a slice of thick-cut bacon as dessert. It’s lightly candied and dipped in chocolate, just enough so that you can still taste the salty, smoky pork. $3 each. 560 N. Nimitz Highway, Suite 102, 538-0597, eathonolulu.com.


from La Tour Café

Vying with cupcakes and doughnuts on the “hot” end of the trend meter, macarons are delicate shells of almond meringue sandwiching flavored buttercream or chocolate ganache. La Tour Café’s colorful assortment ($1.75 each) includes mango, Melona, yuzu,  red velvet and coffee. 888 N. Nimitz Highway, Suite 101, 697-5000, latourcafe.com.


from Camille’s on Wheels

Camille’s take on capirotada, a Mexican bread pudding, tastes like a cross between bread pudding and fruitcake. It incorporates dried fruit, apples, tangerine syrup and piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar) and is served with a dollop of softly whipped cream. $3 a slice. Follow this food truck on Twitter: @camillesonwheel.



from Otto Cake

Otto Cake represents the best of new Chinatown, in which a punk rocker and hobby baker makes amazing cheesecake. Otto has been baking for 21 years for mom and friends (e.g. Billy Joel). He now makes 86 flavors of cheesecake, from Peanut Butter Cup to Strawberry Basil ($5 a slice). 1160 Smith St., 834-OTTO, ottocake.com.


from Fendu Boulangerie

Where to start? With a petite apple crumble pie ($5.25)? Or a Valrhona dark chocolate dome revealing a Grand Marnier cream ($5.75)? Get everything. At Fendu, Honolulu’s finest example of a French patisserie, even a humble pound cake ($4.50) is elevated to a haute dessert. Manoa Marketplace, 2752 Woodlawn Drive, 354-0736


photo: james rubio


from Short n Sweet Bakery

While all our previous sweets can be found on Oahu, an unexpected find in Hilo reveals a high-quality bakery that we wish would move to Honolulu. Short n Sweet makes an assortment of breads, croissants, pies, cupcakes, cookies, and candies (savory goods as well). Forced to pick, we’d go with the Kohala crunch bar, with layers of crushed macadamia nut brittle, feuilletine (thin sugar flakes), and milk chocolate topped with a bittersweet chocolate ganache and cocoa powder. The banana cream pie is also a winner, featuring a real butter crust, vanilla custard and bananas, topped with pillows of fresh whipped cream. 374 Kinoole St., Hilo, 935-4446, shortnsweet.biz.





The Results: A Taste Test

Cupcake Thunderdome

Six cupcakes enter, all get devoured. The cupcake trend continues, no matter how many cupcake-fatigued food writers proclaim its death. While there are a baker’s dozen of cupcakeries without storefronts, we narrowed the field to brick-and-mortar bakeries.

For consistency, we ordered—as closely as possible—the same thing at each place: chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting, though Let Them Eat Cupcakes does not yet make a chocolate frosting. For fun, we also threw everyone’s childhood favorite, Hostess Cupcakes, into the tasting arena. In a blind taste test, seven staffers gave up to five points on three aspects of each cupcake: the cake, the frosting and overall quality, making the total possible score 105. Here’s how they fared.

First Place

Cake Couture

Total score: 87  //  Price: $2.75
Weight: 4.2 oz

A gorgeous cupcake, with a moist, rich cake and fudgy frosting. It tasted slightly soapy, however, from too much leavening. 820 W. Hind Drive, 373-9750, and 841 Bishop St., 585-9750, cakecouture.com.

photos: Mike Keany

Second Place

Poppy’s Coffee

Total score: 83  //  Price: $3.50
Weight: 6.1 ounces

This cupcake, from a shop unknown on the cupcake circuit, was huge, twice the weight of some cupcakes. “Nice balance, good flavor, moist and delicious,” one taster said. 745 Keeaumoku St., 941-8285.

Third Place


Total score: 71  //  Price: $2.50  
Weight: 3.1 ounces

“Cake not very rich, but good frosting consistency.” Restaurant Row, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 4-B, and 900 Fort Street Mall, 536-CAKE, hokulanibakeshop.com.

Fourth Place

Let Them Eat Cupcakes

Total score: 65  //  Price: $2.50  
Weight: 3.2 ounces

The frosting was light like whipped cream, but tasters found the cake dry and rubbery. “Is this from a health food store?” one taster asked. 35 S. Beretania St., 531-2253, letthemeatcupcakes808.com.

Fifth Place


Total score: 64  //  Price: $2.25
Weight: 3.2 ounces

The slight almond flavor to the cake was intriguing, but the cake and frosting weren’t chocolate-y enough, and the top was dry and crusty. 2820 S. King St., 946-4333, cakeworkshi.com.


Sixth Place

Hostess Cupcakes

Total score: 46  //  Price: $2.60 for two-pack
Weight: 1.8 oz

It tastes like nostalgia, one taster said, but unfortunately, nostalgia also tasted “cloying and industrial topped with a waxy frosting.” “Processed. Bleh,” said another.


Dessert Fight

Diamond Head Market and Grill versus The Alley Restaurant at Aiea Bowl

Desserts and pastries may just be treats to us, but to those who create them, they are serious business. We ran across a rivalry while on our sugar quest.

Ever notice that The Alley Restaurant has many of the same bakery-case items as Diamond Head Market? There are the lemon crunch and pumpkin crunch cakes, the blueberry cream cheese scones and peanut butter and jelly scones. They look and taste fairly close. It’s not a coincidence. Diamond Head Market owner Kelvin Ro says Glenn Uyeda, chef-owner of The Alley, and Shane Masutani, chef at The Alley, were his employees before they opened The Alley five years ago. “Instead of trying to learn new stuff, when [Uyeda] opened the Alley, he did the tried and true,” Ro says, meaning Diamond Head Market’s recipes for the best-sellers: the lemon crunch cake, the scones, and to a certain extent, Ro says, the grill items are the same at The Alley.

But Masutani says that the Market’s recipes were ones he came up with, and anyway, both he and Ro changed the recipes when Masutani left. There are some differences: Diamond Head Market’s lemon crunch cake has two thick layers of lemon curd while The Alley’s cake has a more spare application of lemon. Which is better? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Diamond Head Market and Grill, 3158 Monsarrat Ave., 732-0077. The Alley Restaurant, 99-115 Aiea Heights Drive, #310, Aiea, 488-6854.


Sticky Cakes of the World

Why do we find sticky, chewy sweets such as mochi so delicious, so comforting, so magical? We don’t know, but we do know that we’re not alone in the world.

photos: david croxford

Bibingka – Phillippines

Bibingka is a mixture of sticky rice, eggs, sugar, and coconut milk, baked on a banana leaf, resulting in a wonderfully toothsome cake with a caramelized top. Try a sizeable slice ($1.75) from Golden Coin. Golden Coin, locations in Keeaumoku, Kalihi, Waipahu and Wahiawa, goldencoinfood.com.

Jin dui – China

The Chinese take glutinous rice flour and deep fry it for jin dui: spheres filled with black bean paste or coconut sugar and covered in sesame seeds. Chewy and crisp, it’s the best of both worlds. Stop by Lee’s Bakery and Kitchen in the morning, and they might still be warm from the fryer. ($1 each) Lee’s Bakery and Kitchen, 126 N. King St., 521-6261.

Kulolo – Hawaii

Kulolo achieves a dense, chewy effect with a steamed (or sometimes baked) mixture of grated taro, sugar, and coconut. We love kulolo; Liliha Bakery says it has been asked to make coco puffs filled with kulolo-flavored pudding. Young’s Fish Market carries a fine specimen of kulolo ($9.80/pound) made in Kauai. Young’s Fish Market, 1286 Kalani St., 841-4885, youngsfishmarket.com.

Mochi – Japan

The possibilities with mochi are endless, from traditional fillings such as azuki to more contemporary variations such as ice cream or peanut butter. Around New Year’s, some Japanese families still pound mochi with wooden mallets in giant stone bowls. If you can’t get your hands on that, Nisshodo makes excellent alternatives. Nisshodo Candy Store, 1095 Dillingham Blvd., 847-1244.