Food & Drink

Honolulu's Best Dessert Restaurants That Will Make You Skip the Main Course

Published On 01/31/2017 Published On 01/31/2017

Maybe you’ve been there: After busily shoveling your face with lunch or dinner, the server approaches, armed with a dessert menu filled with sweet treats. “I couldn’t possibly,” you say, patting your newly formed food baby and mourning all of the uneaten desserts left in your wake. Next time, save the tissues for another day and arm yourself with this list of our favorite dessert restaurants in Honolulu, and strategically save some real estate for a little something from the top of the food pyramid. Or better yet -- eat dessert first.

MW Restaurant

MW Restaurant

Ala Moana

The dessert menu at this husband and wife-run restaurant may induce much hemming and hawing, because the impressive list is not only typically 10-plus options deep, but Pastry Chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka has been a James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef multiple times. Like their savory menu, desserts are inspired by local comfort food, with a twist. Find artistic takes of local favorites like shave ice made with haupia tapioca, strawberry kanten, mochi ice cream strawberry-yuzu sorbet, and shaved hibiscus strawberry in addition to grown-up versions of childhood classics like Karr-Ueoka’s signature house-made doughnuts, candy bars, and seasonal pop tarts.You can’t really go wrong with anything on the dessert menu, so come with a group of friends and convince everyone to cap off their meals, family-style.

Cafe Laufer

Kaimuki

Stop by this cozy eatery when you’re in need of birthday-cake-quality goodness, without turning a year older. Although coffee, sandwiches, soups, salads, and savory specials fill the menu, the casual cafe is known for their cases of freshly made desserts, where you’ll find rows and rows of tempting treats gleaming in lighted glass cases. For lighter fare, opt for fruit tarts, muffins, or flaky fruit-filled pastries. Here for chocolate? Try their sacher torte, a plentiful chocolatey slice of moist cake stuffed with layers of apricot filling or go for the chocolate decadence cake, which is bite after bite of flourless chocolate richness.

The Pig and the Lady

The Pig and the Lady

Chinatown

Think soft-serve is best eaten with a Happy Meal? This Vietnamese-fusion restaurant will have you rethinking the golden arches and swapping the drive-thru for scant Chinatown parking for a taste of their homemade soft serve and frozen custard. Served only at lunch, their weekly revolving flavors can be ordered separate, or swirled together in a dish or in a house-made waffle bowl. Find flavors like toasted marshmallow custard and chocolate sorbet, churro custard, and coconut pineapple sorbet or gingerbread custard and apple cider sorbet, made with Fuji and Granny Smith apples. Looking for dessert after dinner, but still want a cool treat? Try their homemade gelato or milkshake of the day, served with a warm Valrhona chocolate crinkle cookie.

Junpuu Ramen

Makiki

The homemade floats and puddings at this ramen joint are light, cool, and not too sweet -- the perfect way to end a meal after slurping up a warm bowl of noodles and slow-simmered pork broth. Tucked in the Medical Arts Building, the wife of this family-run noodle shop whips up a limited batch of original desserts of the day. Find options like almond jelly, strawberry mousse, and if you’re in luck, their popular Okinawan brown sugar pudding, a silky, mousse-like dessert, topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of Okinawan brown sugar. Pro tip: Order dessert with your meal. Since desserts are limited, snag yours in case they sell out before you’re done eating your meal.

Courtesy of Palate Craft & Eatery

Palate Craft & Eatery

Downtown

While a craft beer bar may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking desserts, this Downtown gastropub will challenge your expectations. Grab a tall glass of craft beer on tap and pair it with their cheesecake of the day or maple bacon donut bread pudding. Firm and cake donut-like, their bread pudding is sweet and savory, topped with whipped cream and a maple syrup drizzle and bits of crispy bacon. If that doesn’t induce a Pavlov's dog response, we don’t know what will.

Sweet Home Cafe

Moiliili

When people in Hawaii say “the best things in life are free,” they’re probably talking about the weather. Or Sweet Home Cafe’s complimentary Taiwanese dessert. That’s right, free. After fueling up on customized hot pot, a server will unveil a refreshing bowl of shave ice loaded with custard, almond tofu, coffee jelly, fruit, mochi, and tapioca. If you’ve come for dinner just so you can sink your teeth into their shave ice dessert... well, you’re not alone.

Courtesy Reid Arakawa

Livestock Tavern

Downtown/Chinatown

There are three dessert items to choose from at this modern American restaurant, but they don’t disappoint. Although our seasons stay sunny and bright year round, their menu rotates each summer, winter, autumn, and spring. Luckily, if you’re a fan of their triple chocolate mousse (a light and creamy chocolate-lover’s dream) or the rich and decadent salted caramel cheesecake, it’s a dessert mainstay regardless of the season. For those seeking more variety, the third dessert option rotates with the seasonal menus.

Flickr/Sun Brockie

Liliha Bakery

Liliha, Nimtz

Around since the pre-statehood days, this old-school neighborhood diner makes the list for not just their uber-popular chantilly cream puffs, but their trays upon trays of sweets, available at nearly every hour. The original location is open 24 hours, Tuesday to Sunday, and you can find everything from poi donuts to chocolate eclairs to green tea rolls to lemon meringue pies to chocolate cakes. If you’re looking for nostalgic foods with home-cooked flavors, find a variety of sweet options waiting.

Hy's Hawaii

Hy’s Steak House

Waikiki

After slicing into some high-quality USDA prime meat, heat things up with a little flambe, because nothing says showstopper like your dessert lit on fire, table side. Choose from chocolate lovers, bananas Foster, cherries jubilee, or Sinatra’s strawberry flame, and watch as servers prepare your ice cream dessert on a bed of fresh fruit and set it ablaze until the sugar caramelizes on top. If dessert pyrotechnics aren’t your thing, Hy’s offers non-flaming desserts such as flourless chocolate cake, molten lava cake, coconut crème brûlée and homemade cheesecake.

Your Kitchen

Palolo/Kaimuki

This small, mom-and-pop shop may blend into the residential neighborhood, but it’s filled with a small menu featuring delicious options. Come for their melt-in-your mouth pork bowl and stay for the homemade shave ice selection. Their shave ice menu is smaller than strictly shave ice-only establishments, but here, you’ll find fresh, house-made syrups, made with 100% real fruit and without any artificial flavors. Try a small or large bowl with flavors like green tea, haupia, passion fruit, or lychee and opt for toppings like azuki beans, condensed milk or homemade haupia or green tea ice cream. If your sweet tooth is demanding an extra-large portion, go for one of their eight specialty shave ice, like the tropical bowl, a giant mountain of shave ice flavored with half haupia, half mango syrup, and a scoop of haupia ice cream.

Courtesy of Alley Restaurant

Alley Restaurant

Aiea

OK, so this bowling alley diner isn’t in Honolulu, but it’s worth clocking miles on your odometer just for a taste of their infamous lemon crunch cake. Multiple layers of moist cake are held together with rich lemon curd, topped with whipped cream, and bits of toffee. Looking for a holiday treat anytime of year? Try the pumpkin crunch cake, a thick square of pumpkin topped with an equally generous square of whipped topping on a crispy crust.

Shokudo Japanese Restaurant and Bar

Ala Moana

It’s be impossible to put together a list of best desserts in Honolulu without the restaurant that gave us honey toast. Japanese white toast is cut and cubed and tossed back inside two tiers of its thick crusts, drizzled with honey, capped with vanilla ice cream, and accented with your choice of chocolate, caramel, cinnamon, strawberry puree, azuki bean, or Oreo cookies and cream. It might seem impossible that bread could be such a rewarding treat, but after one bite, it’d be difficult to imagine a dessert world without it.

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Summer Nakaishi is a freelance writer for Thrillist, who can frequently be found shoving her piehole with haupia cream pie.

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1. MW Restaurant 1538 Kapiolani Blvd Ste 107, Honolulu, HI 96814 (Ala Moana)

Regional Hawaiian fare shines at this stylish Ala Moana eatery helmed by husband-and-wife celebrity chef team Michelle and Wade Ueoka. Nothing is as it seems here; oxtail stew and rice contains a deboned oxtail stuffed with meat and plopped on a bed of risotto, while banana cream pie is a series of chocolate, bananas, custard, and whipped cream layered one on top of the other, tucked into a jar, and topped with an oatmeal crumble. Speaking of desserts -- the star-studded sweets menu is a cant-miss affair at MW: the Candy Bar combines macadamia nut-praline crunch, salted caramel, Waialua chocolate, and house-made cookies, while the Strawberry “Pop Tart” is a stack of puff pastry with pickled ume strawberries, li hing strawberries, and cheesecake fromage blanc.

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2. Cafe Laufer 3565 Waialae Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816 (Kaimuki)

Supporting our favorite motto -- eat dessert first -- this casual Kaimuki cafe does offer deli sandwiches, Asian-inspired salads, and savory specials on its menu, but it's known in the area for its rows and rows of heavenly desserts gleaming in bright glass cases. For lighter (but still tempting) treats, you can opt for fruit tarts, muffins, or flaky fruit-filled pastries. If it's chocolate your sweet tooth is after, go for the sacher torte, a thick slice of moist cake stuffed with layers of apricot filling, or the rich (and flourless) chocolate decadence cake.

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3. Junpuu Ramen 1010 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96814 (Makiki)

Locals swear by the homemade floats and puddings at this tonkotsu ramen joint in Makiki, which are cool, light, and not too sweet -- the perfect way to end your meal after slurping down a warm bowl of Junpuu's chewy noodles and slow-simmered pork broth. Tucked inside the Medical Arts Building, the wife behind this family-run noodle shop whips up a limited batch of original desserts every day. You'll find options like almond jelly, strawberry mousse, and -- if you’re in luck -- its popular Okinawan brown sugar pudding, a silky mousse-like dessert topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of Okinawan brown sugar. Pro tip: Since the desserts are limited, order yours with your meal in case they sell out before you’re finished eating.

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4. The Pig and the Lady 83 N King St, Honolulu, HI 96817 (Chinatown)

This Vietnamese eatery in Chinatown is a family affair, owned and operated by the Les, whose family recipes serve as the foundation of the menu. The convivial nature of the restaurant (you’ll always feel like on of the Les) is mirrored in the decadence and flavor of its dishes. Friends convene around primal dinners, usually centered on a pig’s head or gigantic pork shank, each of which is ushered into the dining room with a degree of pomp and circumstance. The less ambitious (though not much less) opt for Laotian fried chicken with twice-fried chicken wings, money sauce, fried shallots, kaffir lime, and peanut slaw or pho au vin with spices, scallions, and chicken pate. Either way, one thing’s certain: a meal at The Pig and the Lady will leave you feeling warm on the inside and out.

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5. Sweet Home Cafe 2334 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96826 (Moiliili)

Sweet Home Café embraces a thousand-year-old old food trend: Asian hot pots. Sweet Home’s kitchen brews up 14 different broths. You’ll choose a duo of broths, which you’ll fill with meat ranging from finely marbled beef to pink pork and thin white-meat chicken. You’ll wander to the supermarket-style refrigerators housing plates of prepared ingredients (think sliced tofu, fish, and seafood) before you choose from the 15 house-made sauces to thicken, spice up, sweeten, or dilute your stew. The fun begins when you plunge your fix-ins deep in the layers of broth and have to do a deep-dive search for them, giggling with your crew when your third shrimp of the night has gone missing. When all is said and done, your stomach will be full and -- thanks to reasonable prices -- so will your wallet.

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6. Palate Craft & Eatery 1121 Bethel St, Honolulu, HI 96813 (Downtown)

Situated across from the Hawaii Theater, Palate is an ideal spot to head before or after a show for some small plates of elevated bar food, a solid lineup of craft cocktails, and 16 local and imported craft beers rotating on tap. Alongside a tall glass of malty brown ale from Maui Brewing Company, you'll want to nosh on the Ancho Chili Candied Bacon for a perfectly salty-sweet bite, rye bourbon-sautéed cremini mushrooms, or the semi-spicy Pipikaula Poke with jalapeño, pickled onions, and soy. Considering it's from the team who brought you Real a Gastropub and Brew'd, it's no surprise this friendly watering hole has become a downtown destination.

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7. Livestock Tavern 49 N Hotel St, Honolulu, HI 96817 (Downtown)

Sister restaurant to ever popular Lucky Belly, Livestock Tavern serves upscale American comfort food like smoked pork belly, artichoke & spinach bread pudding, and a signature burger topped with bacon onion marmalade and gruyere. Reservations are required for dinner but lunch is reserved for walk-ins.

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8. Liliha Bakery 515 N Kuakini St, Honolulu, HI 96817 (Liliha)

Established in 1950, this Honolulu diner-meets-bakery has been an island favorite longer than Hawaii has been a state. Open 24 hours, you can sit at retro bar stools and watch longtime waitresses sizzle Portuguese sausage, scrambled eggs, and butter rolls on the flat-top grill around the clock. Then, on your way out, you can pick up treats that have entranced locals for decades, including Liliha's famous Cocoa Puffs, which are essentially profiteroles with chocolate pudding. Good luck saving them for later.

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9. Your Kitchen 1423 10th Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816 (Kaimuki)

Palolo’s Your Kitchen is a cash-only, take-out joint that specializes in Japanese fare and shaved ice. A tiny kitchen creates big, aromatic flavors, particularly in the beloved pork bowl, which has soft, braised pork belly and a panko-coated soft-boiled egg. You’ll want to slurp up some shaved ice while you wait for your food; Your Kitchen has homemade syrups like haupia, mango, green tea, and passion fruit to flavor your portable mound of finely shaved ice. You’ll be wishing you could whip up these sweet and savory bites in your own kitchen.

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10. Hy's Steakhouse 2440 Kuhio Ave Ste A, Honolulu, HI 96815

Hawaii is great for a lot of things, including Mai Tais, volcanoes, and hula skirts, but the secret to some of the state’s best cooking is wood from the Kiawe tree, native to Colombia and first planted in Hawaii in 1828. Hy’s Steak House, a Waikiki institution, employs a signature showcase steak broiler, where steaks are expertly cooked over Kiawe wood to imbue a smoky essence and ensure the perfect temperature. With big portions ideal for sharing and a romantic atmosphere with plush leather booths and warm mahogany walls, Hy’s makes for a memorable date spot. Opt for a broiled New York strip, grilled asparagus with hollandaise, and a wedge salad. Save room for the cherries jubilee, which is prepared tableside.

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11. Shokudo Japanese Restaurant 1585 Kapiolani Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96814 (Ala Moana)

Shokudo Japanese Restaurant & Bar dishes out casual Japanese fare in a bright, modern space ideal for dates, get-togethers, and family meals. With sushi, sashimi, pupus, salads, tempuras, noodles, and entrees, the menu has extensive and often surprising selections, like a lobster Dynamite Roll, a sushi pizza with salmon, scallops, crabmeat, onion, and pickled jalapenos, and a teriyaki chicken quesadilla with mozzarella, mayo, and homemade cilantro dip. All roads at Shokudo lead to honey toast -- the menu’s preferred dessert item -- with Japanese white toast heated with butter, cubed, drizzled with honey, and topped with vanilla ice cream.

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12. The Alley Restaurant at Aiea Bowl 99-115 Aiea Heights Dr, ‘Aiea, HI 96701 (Aiea)

You probably didn't know you needed an Asian diner/bowling alley hybrid in your life, but one visit to this Aiea gem and you'll realize you really, really do. Don't believe me? Park yourself in the casual dining area (after you rack up strikes in the neon-lit bowling alley, of course) for some Asian-influenced comfort food like oxtail soup, garlic shrimp, or the fan-favorite Tasty Chicken (fried chicken dipped in a "secret" sauce of sweet soy, garlic, and chili flakes) and you'll be hooked. It's also worth a trip here just for a taste of the infamous lemon crunch cake: Multiple layers of moist cake are held together with rich lemon curd, and topped with whipped cream and bits of toffee. Used bowling shoes and tempting Asian dishes can coexist, as it turns out.

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