After your arrival on the glorious Garden Isle, you and your spouse were happy to discover that the Kauains not only take their desserts as seriously as you do, they also have an array of specialties that are just not found most anywhere else. You decided to go on a little tasting adventure together, sampling sweets at restaurants, roadside stands and food trucks. After two weeks on Kauai you created your “must try” list of uniquely Hawaiian treats.

This was your kind of research. . .

Taro Donuts

You’d never heard of taro donuts but here they are in all their glory! A true original, taro donuts were conceived on the North Shore of Kauai at a little fried-dough mecca aptly called Holey Grail. Founders and siblings Nile and Hana Dreiling set out to create the world’s finest donut by changing the “arc of history”: They use the Hawaiian-grown superfood known as taro root for the starch in their recipe and fry these tasty hand-made donuts in coconut oil. Each week brings a fresh line up of seasonal delights that celebrate the local community with ingredients like Lydgate Farms chocolate, Kauai Co coffee, and a bevy of island-grown fruits.

You willingly waited in a long line and lucked upon one of that week’s featured flavors: POG (passionfruit-orange-guava), while your spouse enjoyed the Hot Single drizzled with Kauai Nectar Company wildflower honey and flaked sea-salt. Warm, chewy but tender, and full of flavor, these may be the best donuts you’ve ever tasted. Holy Holey Grail!


You believe the world is divided into two types of people: Those who love coconut and the rest of the noodleheads (like your adorable but clearly taste-bud challenged spouse). As a coconut devotee yourself, you are pretty sure you died and went to tropical heaven when you tasted your first haupia (pronounced “how-PEE-ah”). You ordered one of these little white squares at the Koloa Fish Market in Poipu and had no idea what to expect. One bite and you were hooked by its silky-smooth custard-like texture and deep coconutty flavor. Is it a pudding? Is it a jello? All you know is it is one of the most intensely rich and flavorful little bites you’ve had on your trip.

You couldn’t believe your good fortune when the wedding you were attending at Koloa Landing Resort that week served up an even more elegant version of haupia. Your spouse rolled her eyes as you helped yourself to thirds.


Like its New Orleans’ cousin, the beignet, the malasada is a small eggy dough ball fried until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Usually dusted in sugar and filled with something sinful like chocolate, haupia, strawberry cream or vanilla custard, the OG recipe was brought to the islands by Portuguese laborers in the early 20th century and has since been perfected by the Kauains. The best malasadas are said to be found at carnivals and pop up stands, but plenty of bakeries whip them up beautifully.

Your favorite was found at Aloha Sweet Delites, an unassuming, red roadside mini mart and bakery in Kaumakani on the westside. Their malasadas were fresh, warm, light and not too sweet, letting that precious dough-y flavor shine.

Lilikoi Pie

You’ve decided that God created lilikoi as a bonus gift to humanity. Akin to the purple-skinned passionfruit, this bright yellow vine fruit with other-worldly flower blossoms has a tart, exotic and truly singular flavor. Hawaiians use the beloved lilikoi to elevate countless goodies like sodas, ice creams, mustards, butters, marinades, jellies, smoothies and even martinis. If your mai tai on Kauai doesn’t include a feather-light cloud of lilikoi foam on top, it’s time for a new mai tai.

You and your spouse find it nearly impossible to choose your favorite use of this quintessential Hawaiian ingredient but one encounter rises to the top: the lilikoi chiffon pie at Hamura Saimin in Lihue. This little blue shack with a walk-up counter offers a short menu of authentic Hawaiian comfort foods, and an even shorter list of desserts. Their lilikoi chiffon pie is impressively tall, light as air, fluffy beyond imagination, and positively bursting with lilikoi flavor. With a delicate bottom crust and a crown of fresh whipped cream, this tropical dessert is magically delicious.

Shave Ice

You saw a place touting “Shaved” Ice and knew enough to walk on. Only authentic chefs call it by its local name: “Shave” Ice. Though it resembles a gigantic snowcone, a good shave ice is so so so much more: Thin crystals of ice are shaved off of a large block to create a remarkably fluffy-soft texture that is then flavored in layer after layer with sweet fruit syrups in a variety of flavors.

Your favorite shave ice was at Waikomo, a pretty wooden truck in Poipu on the South Shore. Waikomo’s all-natural ingredients simply tasted better to your palate: local Kauai honey and farmers market mangoes, guavas, pineapples and strawberries. Fruit is the star of their syrups — not sugar — and the friendly scooper even topped your creation with a homemade coconut cream that your mouth is still fondly remembering. You also loved the shave ice at the eclectic Hee Fat General Store in Kapaa and at the Wishing Well in Hanalei. Shave the day!

Chocolate Opihi

You love a good chocolate-covered macadamia nut. When you were a kid your grandma often had a box of them on her sideboard. But a chocolate opihi is something new to you altogether – like one of your childhood sweets that’s been turbo-charged.

To back it up a bit: An “opihi” in Hawaiian is a small limpet-like shellfish that lives in the ocean shallows of Kauai and is prized for its little morsel of meat. The sweet treat version of an opihi is handmade at the Kauai Chocolate Company in Port Allen: A chip of guava shortbread from Kauai Kookie is drizzled with caramel and topped with a macadamia nut that’s been roasted in house in a copper kettle. All is then smothered in melted chocolate. The opihi comes in both milk and dark chocolate versions and is basically Kauai in a bite. A visit to the Chocolate Company is worth a drive up the West Coast to the town of Eleele but is also an easy stop on your way to hike Waimea Canyon or to catch a boat for your trip up the Na Pali Coast.

You buy a box of milk chocolate opihi to bring home for your grandmother.

Hula Pie

If Bob’s Big Boy or Mrs. Dairy Queen had grown up in Hawaii, they may have created the Hula Pie. This frozen behemoth is in the tradition of those eye-poppingly enormous desserts that are often noisily shared with four or more friends with dueling spoons clacking and never enough napkins. The Hula Pie usually starts with a cookie crust base that is then piled high with macadamia nut or coconut ice cream and then covered with a generous drizzle of chocolate sauce and whipped cream, both of which temptingly cascade down the sides. Chopped macadamia nuts on top complete the indulgence.

The Hula Pie was created long ago on Oahu or Maui (the origins are unclear) but it has since been made famous on the island of Kauai at the Duke’s in Lihue where the fluffy whipped cream at the base is meant to mimic the sway of a grass skirt. The poolside restaurant even serves it with their signature Hula Pie sporks so you can successfully attack it and enjoy every drop.

Lava Cake

Though it was the French and not the Hawaiians who lay claim to creating this dessert, the lava aspect is so island-themed you couldn’t resist adding it to the list. Besides, Koloa Landing’s Holoholo Grill sometimes prepares it with raspberries so the lava looks like, well, lava. A volcano of flavor!

You can’t wait to return to Kauai so you can try all of the Hawaiian desserts you didn’t quite get to this time around like poi mochi, guava cake, ube turnovers, a fudgy kulolo bar and something called chi chi dango. Who knows what else you may find . . .

With so many reasons to visit Kauai, why not add “search for new desserts” to the list? We think it’s a perfectly fine reason. Book your stay at Koloa Landing Resort and start your own sweet journey.  Mmmmm . . .

— Erica Karlin