If you blink, you’ll miss it. The Paalaa Kai bakery is tucked beside a gas station in an unassuming corner of Wailua. This spot is definitely not a tourist trap; instead, it’s a family-run bakery that’s occupied this location for decades.
A favorite among North Shore locals, Paalaa Kai doesn’t look like much. A nondescript bright yellow sign is the only indicator that there’s a bakery tucked between the gas station and the larger commercial building next door. You won’t find much floor space inside, either; it’s a step away from being a counter-serve location.
Depending on when you visit, you might have to jockey around a bit for a parking spot. Service can feel a bit abrupt and rushed at times, but the staff is efficient and gets customers in and out without much of a wait, even during peak hours.
You won’t find an incredibly expansive menu here, but the items that are available are mouthwateringly delicious–even better than they look. Some of the most popular pastries include:
Paala Kai Bakery is famous for its malasadas: traditional Portuguese donuts, which are basically soft pillows of fried yeast dough coated in sugar. You’ll find malasadas at most local bakeries on the island, and although Paalaa Kai’s aren’t the most famous, they might be the most well-loved, especially on the North Shore. These are typically served up warm from the fryer when you order them.
Another favorite unique to this particular bakery is the snow puffy: a flakey, layered pastry filled with creamy custard, then topped with a swirl of chocolate and a snowy mountain of powdered sugar. These delightful confections are messy to eat and flamboyantly indulgent, and they’re well worth the trip to Waialua.
Have a hankering for a truly delicious, fresh American-style donut? Paalaa Kai’s glazed donuts are always incredibly fresh, light, and flavorful, whether you get a plain glazed donut, a custard-filled option, or something with frosting and sprinkles.
Layered Jello Cups
This might not be what you’d expect from a bakery, but if you glance at the cooler section while in the (very small) storefront, you’ll see an array of brightly-colored clear cups filled with layers of Jello and custards. These Asian-inspired confections are fresh, light, sweet, and eye-catching–definitely worth a try.
Like everything at Paalaa Kai, the turnovers are rather heavy on sugar. But they are well worth it. Choose from pineapple, coconut, custard, and occasionally other local flavors, depending on what they baked up on the day of your visit. These are incredibly flakey and light, with a lovely balance of fruit jam or custard offering a satisfying finishing touch.
Paalaa Kai is located on Kaukonahua Rd. in Waialua, minutes from old-town Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore. About an hour by car from Waikiki, it’s worth taking plenty of time to enjoy the North Shore when you make the trip; the Waialua Sugar Plantation and the restaurants and shops in Haleiwa are well worth your time in the area.
-Visit early if you’re hoping for piping hot malasadas straight from the fryer. Their other pastries are worth a try as well, though; the pineapple and coconut turnovers, when available, combine the best of tropical fruit flavors with flaky, decadent pastry.
-Skip the coffee at Paalaa Kai and go next door to the actual coffee shop in the building next door if you’re craving a good cup of joe.