Magnolia Bakery: Chocolate Cupcake

The gourmet cupcake bubble should have burst — long ago. For some reason, it hasn't. New bakeries claiming they specialize in cupcakes seem to pop up every month. How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? How do you know which bakeries are selling desiccated supermarket cupcakes at inflated prices and which are selling rich, moist, freshly made wonders? Read on.

Oinkster: PBJ & Coconut Cupcakes

10. The Oinkster:

Better known for its and burgers, The Oinkster makes cupcakes that could rival those at most bakeries in town. The cupcakes are dense with a consistency closer to heavy cornbread than traditional cake, and they come in only a few flavors. The best one is PBJ. 2005 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock.

Vanilla Bakeshop: Cupcakes

9. Vanilla Bakeshop:

Offering elegantly decorated mini and full-size cupcakes, this small Santa Monica shop offers the basics (vanilla, chocolate, red velvet) as well as a half-dozen specialty flavors that rotate every day: banana chocolate chip, Meyer lemon raspberry, strawberries and cream, marshmallow graham and more. The Key Lime cupcake is the most stunning. 512 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica.

Polkatots: Pistachio Cupcake

8. Polkatots Cupcakes:

The vibe is kid-centric rather than chic, but the flavors are gourmet. Among the specialty options, the best is the Dolcissimo: a dose of dulce de leche in the cake and the buttercream frosting. Polkatots is also known for its elaborately decorated cupcake cakes. 720 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena.

Auntie Em's: Assorted Cupcakes

7. Auntie Em's Kitchen:

Auntie Em's does only a few flavors, but it does them well. It's a toss-up which flavor is the most acclaimed, but we vote for coconut. The cake is dense yet moist, crumbly and full of intense coconut flavor. Cupcakes come in mini and standard sizes, though “standard” is really more like XL. 4616 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock.

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Sprinkles Cupcakes: Red Velvet Cupcake

6. Sprinkles Cupcakes:

There's a reason Sprinkles usually has a line out the door: The shop is very small. Also, the cupcakes are pretty damn good. Sprinkles' chocolate cupcakes are among our favorite, but devotees love the red velvet. Two underrated flavors: lemon and cinnamon sugar, which brings a coffee cake-esque vibe to the cupcake. With news that Sprinkles plans to open a 24-hour cupcake ATM, you can now get your fix around the clock. 635 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills.

Magnolia Bakery: Cupcakes

5. Magnolia Bakery:

With help from Sex & the City, this is the bakery that kicked off the gourmet cupcake craze. But we still like it. Magnolia specializes in three flavors, vanilla, chocolate and red velvet (with either chocolate or white frosting in assorted colors), but it does them exceptionally well. (Over 20 flavors are available if you order in advance.) The cupcakes are soft, flavorful and perfectly sized, just right for an indulgent treat that won't leave you with the sugar shakes. 8389 W. Third St., L.A.

Joan's on Third: Snickers Cupcake

4. Joan's on Third:

Joan's does everything else well. In addition to achieving the Platonic ideal of the omelet and making a killer rib melt sandwich, Joan's makes a Snickers cupcake so densely studded with candy bar chunks it looks like the chocoholic's dream version of a lunar crater. Every cupcake here is good: soft, moist and fresh. The most visually stunning option is the chocolate cupcake topped with a peak of whipped, chocolate-dipped marshmallow. 8350 W. Third St., L.A.

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Yummy Cupcakes: Cupcake

3. Yummy Cupcakes:

This cupcake shop combines the best of both worlds: high-quality baking with a vast array of original flavors. Guinness, Fluffernutter, peach cobbler and vanilla cupcakes filled with lingonberry jam are just a few of the options. We're a sucker for The King, a cupcake that pays homage to Elvis with bacon, peanut butter and banana. 2918 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; 313 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica.

Big Man Bakes: Assorted Cupcakes

2. Big Man Bakes:

Ridiculously soft and moist, Big Man Bakes makes great full-size cupcakes, but its mini-cupcakes are the best in Los Angeles. (Pro tip: The minis are perfect when celebrating a birthday at a bar.) The flavors are authentic: The lemon tastes like it was made with fresh lemon juice, the chocolate with real, dark chocolate. Big Man also makes the best carrot cupcake in the city: spicy, not too sweet, with a reassuringly familiar yet uncommon blend of spices. 413 S. Main St., L.A.

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Frosted Cupcakery: Assorted Cupcakes

1. Frosted Cupcakery

Even its 14 “standard” flavors aren't so ordinary. On top of chocolate, vanilla, carrot and red velvet, Frosted makes an exceptional chocolate cupcake frosted with rich peanut butter buttercream, as well as a slightly tart lemon cupcake. Then there are the specialty flavors, inventive combos like a honey-sweet bacon cornbread cupcake and seasonal strawberry cupcakes that taste like they came straight from the farm to the oven. The cupcakes are the perfect size, texture, density and flavor. It's how fresh they taste that sets these cupcakes above all others. 1200 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; 4817 E. Second St., Long Beach.

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