How To Find Hawaii's Best Malasadas

Donuts are not my thing. I know, I probably just lost major food cred with you but hear me out. It's so hard to make a good donut — freshly fried, airy, sweet but not too — that I've only come across a few that I really truly love (I'm talking to you, Sidecar Donuts!).

But, when it comes to malasadas aka the fried dough treats you find all over Hawaii? Well, then I'm an equal-opportunity eater. Okay, I still want them freshly fried and well made but there's something about eating a malasada that's just so Hawaii to me that I can't say no. Which is ironic because they're actually not even from Hawaii.

If you're headed to Hawaii, there's a lot of amazing contemporary food to try but you gotta also pay homage to the classics (poke, boiled peanuts, saimin). And, of those classics, you gotta make sure to indulge in malasadas. So, next time you head to Hawaii, promise me you'll have at least a dozen all on your own. Here's everything you need to know about a malasada — as in what makes a good malasada and where to find the best malasadas in Hawaii:

Iconic Dishes: How To Find The Best Malasadas In Hawaii

Malasada 101

Okay, yes, technically a malasada is a donut but that's like calling a Ferrari a car -- really just not the whole story.

At its most basic, the malasada is a yeasty donut. The malasada is distinguished from that of other yeast donuts by a few things: first, it has no hold; second, it's relatively "eggy" in flavor; and third, evaporated milk is usually used to make them. They have a ever so slightly crisp exterior and it's usually, but not always, coated in sugar (though malasada purists will argue that you should only eat them "plain" (aka unfilled)).

But there are myriad "novelty" variations out there from tropical-flavored custards such as haupia (coconut), lilikoi (passionfruit), guava, or pineapple. Macadamia or classic flavors like vanilla and chocolate are also common.

And then there's the coating. At their most classic, malasadas are rolled in sugar but you can also find versions rolled in cinnamon sugar, or the most extreme coating IMO,the sweet-salty-tangy li hing mui (salty dried plum) powder.

From Portugal To Hawaii

The malasada hails from Portugal and was brought to Hawaii when Portuguese immigrants flocked to Hawaii to work the plantations in the 19th century. Originally, malasadas were really only made for special occasions and they were especially associated with the Lent holiday. These days malsadas are everywhere and we have Leonard Rego to thank for that. 

Back in 1952, Leonard opened Leonard's Bakery on Kapahulu Street in Honolulu, and, seeing as he was of Portuguese descent, he decided to sell malasadas. From the start the malasadas were a huge success. In fact, they were so popular, they've been frying them up fresh at Leonard's ever since. To this day, Leonard's has lines from opening to closing.

Where Get Your Malasada Fix

A ton of places make malasadas across the islands, so you should definitely ask locals for their favorites. You want them to be freshly fried and, as a general rule, the places that specialize in malasadas make them best.

I'm partial to the haupia custard-filled one from Leonard's, but here are a few other favorites across the state.

More Oahu on Salt & Wind

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Illustrations by Charmagne Kringstein

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