Sugar Rush: In Search of the Perfect Malasada

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Nate Gaddis is a former food industry veteran from Hilo.

“How many “Portagees” does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”

Who the heck cares, as long as they do the cooking.

How exactly the descendants of Portuguese explorers and missionaries came to have a reputation as dim-witted is beyond our knowledge. Equally perplexing is their ability to avoid the label “haole.” These people are from E-u-r-o-p-e. For reals. We own a map.

But ethnic and geographic controversies aside, there’s one thing no one here would argue about: these folks know their way around a kitchen.

Tempura, Longuissa (read: sausage), Bacalhau, sweet bread, and of course the noble malasada all arrived here courtesy of our oh-so-tidy Portuguese friends.


In honor of these slightly hairy culinary pioneers, we set out on a cross-island trek to find the top three “best” little fried dough balls we could get our hands on.

3) Zippy’s. Yes, Zippy’s.

Despite the less-than-kind words we had for Zippy’s famous military-grade chili, this island franchise does manage to pull off some pastries that are pretty great.

Although most people with a sweet tooth gravitate to their “Napples,” Zippy’s malasadas are quite good, provided you get them “fresh from the fryer.”

Light and airy, with a slightly nutty flavor almost reminiscent of “Leonard’s” famous Malasadas from Honolulu, these dough balls are a nice take-away after a sit down meal. But be warned: once these have sat around in the display case for a while, they lose their luster.


Be sure to request that they be made “to order” (ask for a half-dozen at least, just to be nice… they’re frying these for you after all).

Punalu`u Bakery's "Bismark" is like a pocket-sized Boston Cream Pie. Which is a good thing.  Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Punalu`u Bakery’s “Bismark” is like a pocket-sized Boston Cream Pie. Which is a good thing.
Photo by Nate Gaddis.

2) Punalu`u Bakery: A Chocolate-Covered Revelation

The “southernmost” bakery in the United States is home to more than just world-famous Portuguese Sweet Bread.

Although their plain “original” malasada is simply a re-shaped (and deep-fried) version of their signature bread dough, Punalu`u’s flavored/filled variation of this famous island confection will make your mouth very happy.

Their passionfruit malasada is tangy, tart and refreshing. Although the icing glazed over the top of these filled beauties tastes slightly of canned fruit concentrate, they’re still a great experience.


But the real treasure here (and something you won’t find in stores) is Punalu`u Bakery’s little-known but thoroughly outstanding “Bismark.” A fried ball of sweet dough is filled with light vanilla pastry cream, then topped with a coating of chocolate. The end result is a perfectly balanced bit of genius, fusing all the flavors of a Boston Cream Pie into one tiny little package.

Down this with a tall cup of iced Ka`u coffee, and you’ll beat the summer heat in style.

1) Tex Drive-In: Claiming the Crown

Don’t let the dilapidated building, the occasional missing window pane, or the barely interested drive-through cashiers scare you off.

This 43-year-old Honoka`a staple is a gem. And it’s getting better.

“Tex,” which changed ownership in recent years, has slowly had its interior refreshed and upgraded. But most importantly?

When you can see it being made, it tastes even better. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

When you can see it being made, it tastes even better. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Somehow, the malasadas are now un-freaking believable.

We’ve had these fried pastries countless times over the decades, and they’ve never been better than they are now.

A perfect balance of light and chewy, these malasadas are made from scratch on-site at an almost constant clip. In case you don’t believe us, just go in and watch them. Their pastry station features extra large windows to allow visitors a daily lesson in the art of the dough ball (or dough square in this case).

No need for fruity fillings here. When fresh from the fryer (which is almost always), these are a triumph of simplicity.

Go try them. And bring some back for us.


Tex Drive In is located at 45-690 Pakalana St #19, Honokaa, HI 96727. Phone (808)-775-0598.

Punalu`u Bakery is located at 95-5642 Mamalahoa Hwy, Naalehu, HI 96772. Phone (808)-929-7353.

Zippy’s is located at 111 E Puainako St, Hilo, HI 96720. Phone (808)-313-8300.

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