Crunchy, fresh, fruity, refreshing and often very filling… I am talking about sweet-tart pitaya bowls. These are kind of like acai bowls but with pitaya, a variation of dragon fruit, instead of acai. To make pitaya bowls and smoothies you start with the amazingly magenta fruit either fresh, frozen or in a pre-blended pack. Toss it in a blender with apple juice, coconut milk or coconut water and add in other fruits to thicken. The consistency ranges from thick to soupy.
Pitaya bowls are like the next-generation acai bowls. Acai, the purple berry from a South American palm tree, hit the health food scene several years ago and while it is still extremely popular as a breakfast, light meal or refresher on a hot day, pitaya has now emerged as the new big trend in healthy eating. Known as a super food, pitaya is full of antioxidants, high in vitamin C, loaded with fiber, usually organic and non-GMO, and it’s supposed to help with arthritis.
That said, it’s kind of expensive when you think about it. A couple scoops of pitaya topped with fruit averages $10. So you must think of it as a meal. And believe me, I do!
I set out to find the top 5 places to score a healthy, delicious and filling pitaya bowl. My top 5 had to be pleasing to the eye, full of color and abundant with fruits and pitaya. They had to be sweet, but not too sweet, with just a hint of tartness. And was the pitaya runny, was it soft, was it hard, was it smooth? Everywhere I went I bought a basic pitaya bowl, without any upgrades or additions.
No. 5: Tilia Aloha Cafe
Located in the heart of Waikiki, this hidden gem is very popular with Japanese tourists because of its diverse menu, whimsical offerings and retail shop. This bowl was beautiful, topped generously with puff rice, granola, strawberries, blueberries, bananas and mac nut honey. The pitaya itself was a little sorbet-ish, so it melted quickly and turned to soup. But the flavor was good, a bit tart, and the portion with fresh colorful fruits was beautiful and generous for $10.50.
403 Kaiolu Street, Honolulu, 808-888-2011
No. 4: Lanikai Juice
This was a standout: full of fruits, with pitaya that was soft and somewhat creamy with just the perfect amount of sweetness mixed with tart. The pitaya was blended with coconut water, coconut cream, banana and strawberry, then topped with granola, banana, blueberries, strawberry, mango and dried shredded coconut. For $9.75, it was the perfect combo of beauty, taste, texture and flavor. Plus it had a generous assortment of fresh fruits including mango, which is pretty rare.
680 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, 808-369-1400
No. 3: Jess Da Best
If you haven’t heard of Jess Da Best acai bowls, you are missing out. They have more than 18,600 followers on Instagram, so the bowls must be good, right? Well, this Kapolei operation occasionally does pop-ups in Honolulu. The bowls are beautiful and topped with an insane amount of fruits. The $9.50 pitaya bowl typically includes strawberries, coconut, honeydew, watermelon, pineapple, honey and granola. There are a range of fruit add-ons that include pineapple and sometimes grapes, apples and blueberries. The most popular add-on is a homemade egg-free cookie dough, which you eat raw.
525 Farrington Hwy, Kapolei, 808-561-9386
No. 2: Farmacy Health Bar
I’m veering to a neighbor island here, but this joint on Maui known as “The Farmacy” takes freshness and health to a whole new level. This is where the island’s top chefs and foodies grab their healthy treats. The pitaya here is made with freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, coconut milk, macadamia nut milk and aloe vera gel and topped with strawberries, blueberries, banana, mango, papaya and pitaya. Often it is also topped with roasted coconut, mac nuts, goji berries, hemp seeds, cacao nibs, honey and bee pollen, at $8 per pound. Farmacy specializes in locally sourced organic fruits and toppings. They use sugarcane juice instead of apple for the added minerals, vitamins and alkaline benefits. I feel so healthy now!
12 N. Market St., Wailuku, 808-866-4312
No. 1: Hi-Blend Health Bar
This hole-in-the-wall off Keeaumoku Street came as a surprise. I have dined at Raging Crab and Sushi ii, both in the same Samsung Plaza, but never noticed this little health bar. Their $9.95 pitaya bowl was a major standout because the consistency was like a soft sorbet and it was topped with fresh fruits including kiwi, local banana, firm blueberries, strawberries and toasted coconut. Local organic honey, granola and crunchy almonds hidden in the bowl added great texture and crunch to each spoonful. They blend their pitaya with coconut milk, which gives it a creamier texture. This is my favorite because it’s the perfect balance of sweetness and tartness, has lots of fresh fruits and a nice hearty granola with crunchy nuts.
661 Keeaumoku St., Honolulu, 808-721-7303
Now after all this, would I prefer an acai bowl or a pitaya bowl? I would probably pick an Acai bowl since it’s usually cheaper, comes with more toppings and most places have perfected them by now. But pitaya bowls are just as delicious if they’re loaded up with freshness.