The Sweet Spot: L.A.’s Top Dessert Destinations
For a city that likes to look good, Los Angeles also loves to indulge in a sweet treat every once in a while. With ice cream, pudding, cakes and pies, candy, cookies, chocolate, and so much more at one’s fingertips – where to go to get your fix? These restaurants and purveyors of sugary goods are the spots Angelenos go to for dessert.
Out of the vast dining options in L.A., only a few restaurants pay special attention to the last course of a meal. After diners finish eating appetizers and main courses, dessert tends to be more of an afterthought than yet another opportunity to wow. These places, however, aren’t like that.
You’ve probably heard of The Ivy. Not too many people have heard of this venerable L.A. institution that’s been serving relaxed fare with a side of paparazzi since 1983. Yes, it has been talked about many times; to the point that some now associate it more with the clientele dotting the patio, but not the food that it serves. However, the food deserves a mention, especially their most famous dessert: Key Lime Pie.
Haven’t tried it? Well, first things first: the Key Limes used to make the pie are picked from The Ivy owners Lynn Van Kerstin and Richard Irving’s backyard. These little limes (about the size of a golf ball) are more bitter and tart than their larger relatives, and are the reason for the indescribable tang found in Key Lime Pies. The sugar cookie crust is a family recipe that adds perfect crunchy sweetness to counteract the acidity of the filling. On top is a generous helping of meringue and lime peel – of course.
Choosing a dessert can be difficult. What if you want a little bit of chocolate, maybe some fruit, and ice cream all at the same time? Culina at The Four Seasons makes the decision easy by putting just about everything you can imagine together in one bowl. Their dessert, appropriately named The Kitchen Sink, is a veritable sugar overload that is as visually pleasing as it is filling. Involving different gelatos, berries, marshmallows, fruit, nuts, sauces, meringue, cookies, and chocolate (and so much more…): it has got you covered.
As Culina serves up a refined menu and is rarely the scene of debauchery of any kind – eating this dessert will make you feel almost like you’re doing something sinful. And that’s why Culina gets it. This restaurant knows that dessert is supposed to be a little bit naughty and unrestrained.
Speaking of over-the-top desserts, no sweet compilation would be complete without the inclusion of a relative newcomer: Barton G. This Miami restaurant is part food, part high drama, and part South Beach teleporter. Drinks, meals, and desserts are served with such flair that it can only be seen to be believed.
While every option is a good one, the two standouts are their ode to Marie Antoinette and their Pot Pie Garden. The Marie Antoinette dessert (also styled Let Them Eat Cake) features a bust of the French queen topped with a wig made with a generous portion of cotton candy surrounded by little cakes perfect for any member of the aristocracy. The Pot Pie Garden, as you may have guessed, is a selection of pies. But, like everything at this place, it’s how they come that makes them absolutely stunning. Banana cream, cherry, apple, and mud pies to name a few come in garden pots amongst flowers (and yes there’s even a trowel.)
In a city like L.A., there are restaurants that like to use theatrics and those that like to have the food speak for itself. Neither is better than the other, but it allows Angeleno diners to choose. While it may not come with much pomp and circumstance, the Butterscotch Budino at Pizzeria Mozza is a true culinary standout.
Budino, Italian for pudding, was chosen by Mozza’s pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez and Chef Nancy Silverton for its approachability and Italian heritage. Beyond the fact that it’s pudding, there is very little that is simple about the mastery and culinary aptitude present in this treat. The actual budino is a velvety smooth delight full of caramel flavor, then there’s the warm caramel on top, and lastly the whipped cream and sea salt. Probably the most highbrow part of the dessert is the rosemary pine nut cookies served on the side.
Another restaurant that treats the cuisine it serves with the utmost respect, Petit Trois honors its heritage the best way it knows how – through its food. In the case of this less formal incarnation of one of LA’s most talked about openings of last year, Trois Mec, the dessert they do best is their Napoleon.
Like all of the menu items at Petit Trois, the Napoleon is as traditional as it gets. And that’s a good thing. Comprised of two layers of pastry cream between three layers of puff pastry, the flavors are absolutely true to those in France and the texture is perfectly split between each layer to give both silky smoothness and flaky crunch.
Very few places garner a reputation strictly for their desserts but there is one that is almost always on the top of everyone’s list. Sweet Lady Jane, trusted by sweet-toothed locals and celebrities alike, has been serving all types of sugary staples from the same spot on Melrose and Orlando since 1988.
Their most famous cake, a go-to for all occasions, is the triple berry shortcake. Consisting of layers of yellow butter cake, sweetened whipped cream, and berries and then frosted with whipped cream, buttercream vines, and more fresh berries: this cake is a sweet, delicious, and heavenly tour de force. Other cakes that are certainly worth a try: bananas & cream, blackout espresso fudge, and chocolate almond crunch.
Restaurants aren’t the only places to satisfy that sweet tooth. Luckily, Los Angeles has plenty of shops devoted strictly to sweet stuff. There’s probably no better spot to start than with LA’s most talked about candy store of the past year or so: Sugarfina.
Full from floor to ceiling with some of the most exquisite candies from all over the world, Rosie O’Neill and Josh Resnick’s candy boutique (which is a much more appropriate term than candy shop) immediately struck a chord with those that appreciate a little artistry with their sugar consumption. From marshmallows covered in gold (yes, real gold), to champagne gummy bears: these candies certainly give any restaurant dessert a run for its money. As to be expected, all of these pricey confections are sold in little blue boxes à la Tiffany’s.
A true standout in a city that loves a good dessert craze – the macaron is small, sweet, colorful, and completely worth the calories. There are a few options around town to pick up these little ganache-filled discs of joy but probably none with such an evolving array of flavors and hues as Lette.
Founded in 2007 by PauLETTE Koumetz (a bonafide Frenchwoman) in Beverly Hills – Lette has expanded to include other locations in Little Tokyo, Larchmont, Pasadena, Fashion Island, Glendale, and San Diego. Flavors typical of French macarons such as dragée (sweet wedding almond), rose, vanilla, and chocolate sit alongside less traditional tastes including the particularly unique salted caramel macaron, Earl Grey tea, and seasonal varieties like chestnut.
If you’ve ever tried to make macarons, you know how difficult they are to bake and put together. They can be too dry, burn, flake, the ganache doesn’t turn out right, or any number of other disasters can occur. Lette has figured out the consistency, the richness, and the marketing to make their confections the perfect little sweet treat. At $1.95, each they’re a bit pricey – but such is the price of the perfect mix of taste and glamour.
If there’s one dessert staple that gets people’s mouths watering – it’s chocolate. Hershey’s may be good for s’mores, but a plain milk chocolate bar leaves a lot to be desired. That’s where Compartes comes in. An LA institution since 1950, its chocolates were devoured by the likes of Marilyn Monroe, The Kennedys, even Winston Churchill.
Today the company is run by chocolatier Jonathan Grahm who takes his craft very seriously. His love of chocolate, travel, and design results in flavors that run the gambit from olive oil rosemary truffles, to matcha green tea chocolate bar, to limited edition Kelly Wearstler bars with gold leaf. Their location of many years in Brentwood was recently joined by another boutique that opened within Alfred on Melrose Place because chocolate and coffee make perfect sense.
Although it may be winter (and still warmer than almost the entire country), there’s never a bad time for ice cream. A city blessed with warm temperatures like LA has options galore when it comes to ice cream but the shops that make ice cream outside of your typical vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors (and isn’t made of chemicals and other fake ingredients) should be your first stop.
McConnell’s is just that kind of place. Originally from Santa Barbara and churning out sweet creams since 1949, their only LA brick and mortar location is located in DTLA’s Grand Central Market. Serving scoops made from grass-grazed milk and cream, local and seasonal ingredients, and only in small batches – the difference is remarkable.
Flavors like Churro Con Leche, Toasted Coconut Almond Chip, and Eureka Lemon & Marionberries are so rich and full of flavor that you’ll feel like you traveled all the way to the farm to milk the cows yourself. Yes the price is a little higher than your average cone (and more expensive for a pint from your local fine supermarket) but once you’ve had it, you’ll never dare pay less for such quality.