Flan is one of the best examples of the majesty of sugar, eggs and milk, with a history that dates to ancient Rome and today is best represented in the cuisines of Spain, Mexico and Latin America.
Here are 10 of our favorite flans in L.A., listed in alphabetical order:
Aqui ex Texcoco
Francisco “Paco” Perez followed in his mother’s footsteps by specializing in Texcoco-style barbacoa. He started out in Chula Vista, not far from his mom’s spot in Tijuana. In 2014, he expanded to an industrial area in Commerce, where lamb barbecue is the star — but save room for dessert. For his flan ($2.85), Perez uses his grandmother’s recipe, which calls for natural vanilla bean. The firm dome is lavished with caramel sauce and served with strawberries. 5850 S. Eastern Ave., Commerce; (323) 725-1429, aquiestexcoco.com.
It should come as no surprise that José Andrés’ pleasure palace of Spanish gastronomy inside the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills finishes strong. Executive pastry chef Kriss Harvey prepares a traditional Spanish flan ($12) that’s particularly creamy, crafted with vanilla from Indonesia and Madagascar and infused with California orange peel. Harvey credits the combi oven, which simultaneously bakes and steams the flan, for the luxurious texture. Caramel and a generous dollop of cream complete the picture. 465 S. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 246-5545, sbe.com/TheBazaar/BeverlyHills.
Andrew Lujan and his family opened Cacao Mexicatessen next to their Eagle Rock flower shop in 2009 — and they've since doubled the restaurant's size and ditched flowers entirely. Order at the counter at the small, colorful café, which also sells Mexican ingredients. Chef Christy Lujan perfected the temperature and timing for this firm, custardy disc of flan ($5.95), dressed with golden sugar syrup. Flavors rotate and could include classic caramel served with cajeta sauce, whipped cream and almonds; or possibly chia, with seeds dotting the top of the dessert. 1576 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; (323) 478-2791, cacaodeli.com
This unassuming Palms café dates to 1986 and is named for a popular bakery that’s ubiquitous in Cuba. Owner Anita Asnaran, who hails from Cuba, is renowned for tres leches cake, but her flan ($4.50) is just as remarkable. She fills sheet pans with a mixture of eggs; whole, evaporated and condensed milk; vanilla; and a pinch of salt help to temper the richness of each rectangular slab, which is spooned with dark caramel. 10825 Venice Blvd., Palms; (310) 838-0375.
CUT, in back of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, is a luxurious Wolfgang Puck steakhouse that goes through hundreds of pounds of meat per week — which yields a lot of beef bones. Head chef Ari Rosenson knows not to let those bones go to waste. He scoops out the marrow and creates a rich, creamy, bone marrow flan ($19) with eggs, cream, fresh cracked black pepper and nutmeg. The flan is cooked inside the bone and served with mushroom marmalade, a bright parsley salad with shallots and capers. Pile all three elements atop brioche toast for the full effect. 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 276-8500, wolfgangpuck.com/restaurants/fine-dining/3789.
William Sera and wife, Niurca, are originally from Cuba and founded the first El Criollo in Van Nuys in 1982. They teamed with son Albert and expanded to Burbank more than 30 years later, continuing the family’s efforts to promote the comfort food of their homeland. In both locations, you’ll find flan ($3.95) with butterscotch-like richness and a judicious caramel topping. 6622 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys; (818) 785-8625; and 916 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank; (818) 260-0211, cubanfoodla.com.
Fogo de Chao
This Brazilian-born chain recently expanded its meat-centric, gaucho lifestyle from Beverly Hills to downtown L.A. Fogo de Chao offers a huge buffet and ostensibly serve 10 cuts of meat (they actually have more if you ask). Be sure to save at least a little room for one of the flans ($9.50), made simply with whole eggs, sweetened condensed milk and whole milk. Right before the custard enters a ramekin to bake, the chef pours on amber hued caramel sauce. A hot knife frees each flan from its ramekin. Before serving, the chefs hit the flan with another jolt of caramel sauce. 133 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 289-7755; 800 S. Figueroa St., Downtown; (213) 228-4300, fogodechao.com.
Patricia Jimenez and her husband, Francisco, who first met in Mexico City, opened La Cabañita in the northern Glendale neighborhood of Sparr Heights in 1989. Francisco’s mother, Maria Vazquez Francisco, provided most of the family recipes. For dessert, they serve three different varieties of flan ($5.25). Choose from vanilla, coconut or the grand champion: cajeta con nuez, which translates to “goat’s milk caramel with pecan.” They are baked in a “water bath” which keeps them luscious. 3445 N. Verdugo Rd., Glendale; (818) 957-2711, cabanitarestaurant.com.
Restaurateur Jesse Gomez and chef-partner Jose Acevedo advertise “the best flan in the universe,” based on an OC Weekly review from when Acevedo was in the kitchen at Irvine’s bygone Taleo Mexican Grill. The flan is pretty fantastic, almost beyond creamy. Depending on the season, you might find it topped with rompope (eggnog) or possibly frois de bois sourced from the farmers market. “Attention to detail is one of the keys to a great flan,” says Acevedo. “When cooking the caramel it is important to find the perfect balance between the color, sweetness and bitterness.” Multiple locations, including 1416 4th St., Santa Monica; (310) 526-7121, mercadorestaurant.com.
Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu serve artful flan at their original restaurant, La Casita Mexicana, in Bell. Depending on the season, you might find cacao flan in a pool of sugar syrup garnished with mint leaves, or possibly pumpkin flan seasoned with brown sugar and cinnamon. At Mexicano, the duo’s colorful new restaurant on the perimeter of Baldwin Hills' Crenshaw Plaza, they serve a savory Flan de Tres Quesos Mexicano featuring a trio of Mexican cheeses — cotija, queso fresco and panela – that toes the line between savory and sweet. 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Baldwin Hills; (323) 773-1898, mexicanola.com.