As you may have noticed, this year's Best Of issue dropped on your doorstep, metaphorically if not actually, last week. There are hundreds (yes, hundreds) of listings, of spas and hikes and cocktails and grottos (yes, grottos), so many that you might get lost — so many that we thought we'd pull out a few highlights. Drop some breadcrumbs, so to speak. In this case, some of the best pastries and desserts, and the places to find them, in town. Turn the page.
10. Best Shaved Snow: Class 302
Angelenos have the opportunity to sample many global variations of shaved ice — but shaved ice is just so 2010. Nowadays it's all about shaved snow. Taking the concept of shaved ice a step further in its logical evolution, condensed milk — sometimes with a flavor added — is frozen into blocks of ice and then shaved, resulting in a bowlful of silky smooth ribbons. One of the first restaurants in the area to serve shaved snow, Class 302 in Rowland Heights seems perpetually crowded. Waits of a half-hour or longer are the norm, regardless of season or temperature. Yet you won't see many give up their place in line and leave, and with good reason. While many places have jumped on the shaved-snow bandwagon, it's hard to top the small, Taiwanese, schoolhouse-themed restaurant, which features a decor of school desks and chairs and a blackboard menu. You can pick three choices from a variety of toppings or go with set combos, like strawberry or mango-mochi — which is truly worth the wait. 1015 S. Nogales St., #125, Rowland Heights. (626) 965-5809, class302.com. —Jim Thurman
9. Best San Fernando Valley Pastry Shop: Sweet Butter
On a chic strip of shops near a leafy Sherman Oaks neighborhood filled with film-industry types, Sweet Butter is designed to feel as if you've stumbled into a sidewalk pastry shop in Paris. Fleur de sel caramel brownies, butter-rich croissants, bread pudding with brioche (in coconut-lemon and chocolate versions), cinnamon muffins filled with homemade peach or strawberry jam, plum-lemon bars and savory bacon-cheddar scones are churned out by three in-house pastry chefs. Founder Leslie Danelian, a former food stylist and longtime caterer, keeps the charm factor high but the prices low: Mouth-watering chocolate chip cookies are $2, muffins and scones $2.75. The pastry items rotate, so each day Sweet Butter's glass case is filled with surprises. The French county–style restaurant offers full breakfast and lunch menus, with items such as grilled turkey, fig jam and bleu cheese sandwiches. 13824 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 788-2832, sweetbutterkitchen.com. —Jill Stewart
8. Best Bakery: Milo & Olive
It's some feat for a pastry chef to actually out-bake herself, as Zoe Nathan has possibly done at Milo & Olive. More so as she did it not by upping the chocolate ganache ante — as one might expect from the seasoned pastry chef — but by fully embracing the bread baker's domain. Sure, Nathan turned out a handful of great breads at Huckleberry, but the real reason we trekked to her first Westside outpost on Saturday mornings was for anything that could double as both breakfast and dessert. At Milo & Olive, Nathan's pretty little fruit crostatas are still perched on the counter, but we elbow our way through the impatient, pizza-seeking crowds on a singular mission: Nathan's multigrain baguettes, whole-wheat potato bread and that rustic country boule begging for a drizzle of olive oil. Does that mean Nathan now is considered a baker first, pastry chef second? That depends on which side of the laminated dough issue — is a croissant pastry or bread? — you land on. 2723 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 453-6776, miloandolive.com. —Jenn Garbee
7. Best Drinking Chocolate: Demitasse
Demitasse in Little Tokyo has a lot going for it — fantastic pour-over coffee, awesome Kyoto iced coffee, good pastries. But it's possible we'd pass all that up for a cup of the café's outrageous drinking chocolate. Made with E. Guittard Cocoa Rouge cocoa powder mixed with Tahitian vanilla, the drink then is imbued with a drop or two of lavender oil. The hint of lavender gives it a wild floral finish, and the result is a deep, rich, thick, dark chocolate that will stain your teeth and woo your heart. A marshmallow, blow-torched to order, comes standard with the drink, but we prefer it without so as to better enjoy the perfumed chocolate itself. 135 S. San Pedro St., dwntwn. (213) 613-9300, cafedemitasse.com. —Besha Rodell
6. Best Filipino Pastry Shop: Goldilocks Bakeshop
The several Goldilocks Bakeshop locations across the Southland are basically portals to Manila, to be used in the event of a sweet-tooth emergency. Expat Filipinos come here for polvoron milk-powder, shortbread-like treats and tiny purple ube puto cakes, and pan de sal, or “salted bread,” dinner roll–shaped buns actually eaten for breakfast. They come here for modest hopia, a hockey puck of flaky, paper-thin layered pastry filled with black or yellow beans, and showy ensaymada, a butter-intensive brioche twirled into a turban, sprinkled with grated cheese and sugar. Or for pastillas de leche in cellophane bags, whose delightful crinkle elicits a practically Pavlovian response in fans of the soft, sugar-coated milk candies. The Philippine palate is sweet and salty and a little bit sour, and Goldilocks caters to this holy trinity. To cut the sugar, there are pork buns and siopao (Chinese for “hot bun”) and bags of savory native snacks like chicharron — fried pork skin seasoned with salt and vinegar — and garlic peanuts. The Vermont Avenue Goldilocks is the flagship, but the one in Eagle Rock is located in a mall next to a Target, which is convenient: Head there afterward for some Pepto Bismol. 209 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown. (213) 382-2351; 2700 Colorado Blvd., Suite 110, Eagle Rock. (323) 543-2676. goldilocks-usa.com. —Gendy Alimurung
5. Best Doughnut: The Donut Man
Few doughnuts are worth driving some 30-odd miles to taste (if you're coming from central L.A.) but in the case of the Donut Man, gas up. And not just for the doughnuts' undeniable deliciousness but also their sheer girth. If you've heard of the place, likely you've seen photos of the strawberry doughnut, which oozes a filling of whole, ripe strawberries from a sweet, biscuitlike shell. That's a good one to try, as is the apple, which, unlike most apple fritters, has filling that runneth over much like its strawberry cousin. Best of all, though, is the Tiger Tail, a glazed chocolate and vanilla braid that looks as if they put devil's food and regular batter in a soft-serve ice cream machine and hit “twist.” Like many of the other varieties, it's semiridiculously oversized, making the whole doughnut experience at the Donut Man feel like a culinary funhouse. 915 E. Route 66, Glendora. (626) 335-9111, thedonutmanca.com.
4. Best Pastry Shop: Joan's On Third
In the nearly 17 years since she opened Joan's on Third, Joan McNamara has baked through every layer-cake trend, cupcake craze and pie fixation. These days, the pastry shop and café is a hotbed of early-morning egg sandwich and lunch-hour Chinese chicken salad activity, but even the best chicken salad is merely an excuse to choose from McNamara's beautifully understated oatmeal raisin cookies, banana cream pies and lemon bars. They may not win all the blogger buzz in these bacon ice cream–laden pastry times, but McNamara has been baking marshmallow crème–filled cupcakes long enough to know that trends pass. A really great apple pie? Your grandmother, and McNamara, know the answer. 8350 W. Third St., Fairfax District. (323) 655-2285, joansonthird.com. —Jenn Garbee
3. Best Macarons: EuroPane
Macarons, those glorious little cookies that look like an OCD pastry chef's re-envisioning of the hamburger as tiny French patisserie experiment, have become trendy. And unlike the rise of the cupcake, the macaron is something we greeted with great happiness and a kind of relief. Macarons are one of those pastries that, even if you're the kind of person who wakes before dawn to laminate dough, you'd really rather buy than make. And who has the cash these days to jet to Pierre Hermé's shop in Paris? The macarons that Sumi Chang creates in her Pasadena bakery, EuroPane, are classic iterations: brightly colored meringue cookie sandwiches made in all kinds of flavors — lemon, passion fruit, raspberry, blackberry, pistachio, hazelnut, mocha, coconut and the most popular and wildly addictive sea salt caramel. But one thing differentiates EuroPane's macarons from everybody else's: their size. Whereas most macarons measure about an inch and a half across, these are easily twice that. Chang says she makes them bigger because the larger surface area ensures that the cookies stay chewy on the inside. While this is certainly true, we like them because they are the one thing on earth that really deserves to be super-sized. 950 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 577-1828 (no website). —Amy Scattergood
2. Best Pie: Cake Monkey
It's hard to pinpoint what makes pies from Cake Monkey so singularly special, but allow us to ruminate. For one thing, no matter what the spectacular filling is, it's encased in a shatteringly crisp butter crust. It's burnished and bronzed and topped with sanding sugar, which during the course of sampling pies around town we've determined is pretty much the key to nirvana. The fillings are seasonal, ranging from blueberry frangipane in the late summer to cider roasted apple pie in a double cheddar crust in the fall and honey-braised pumpkin tart with homemade toasted marshmallow topping around the holidays. No matter what's in it, this is pie in all its glory. Ask for it with ice cream if you must, but believe us when we say it stands on its own. Available at Umami Burger or by special order from Cake Monkey (cakemonkey.com). 850 S. La Brea Ave., Hlywd. (and other Umami locations). (323) 931-3000, umami.com/umami-burger.
1. Best Soufflé: Maison Giraud
The soufflé is a dying art. While many restaurants have held onto classics like crème brûlée, the soufflé is all but gone from dessert menus. Why? Because it's difficult. It's also delicious when done right. At Maison Giraud, the Pacific Palisades French bistro, chef-owner Alain Giraud makes a great case for the revival of the soufflé. There are occasional, fabulous seasonal versions on the specials menu, but the king here is the chocolate soufflé. Giraud makes an almost comically large version of the dessert, and it towers a good three inches above its round porcelain vessel, all air and fluffy egg and bitter chocolate. Dig into the warm, airy cake and what you bring back on your spoon is a mixture of sticky, sugar-crisped edge and hot batter center. It will have you crying, “Vive la soufflé!” 1032 Swarthmore Ave., Pacific Palisades. (310) 459-7562, maison-giraud.com.
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