Pie can become a fixation. For some, it's more than just something to eat, it's an experience. For us, it was a challenge. We polled and questioned, consulted the experts, prodded and called and narrowed our list to a daunting 25 local pies to sample. For our own sanity, this was limited to standard sweet pies that you can get in single portions -- either a slice or as a mini-pie -- and they had to come from a restaurant or storefront. Pies that are locally made and delivered whole were not included.
What makes a good pie? First, the crust, a tricky bit of culinary wizardry: It should be a rich golden color, not tough and should have a lovely flavor. Our ideal crust is rolled out thinly but evenly, and still sturdy enough to hold its shape. It should not be partly dissolved or tough as cardboard. The filling should be sweet, not cloying and never runny, gummy, rubbery or industrially gelled. Those are the hallmarks of bad pie. Nothing like that is on this list.
Of course the best pie in Los Angeles is always going to be the one you baked yourself, ideally just out of the oven. But if that isn't on your agenda, here are our picks for the 10 Best Pies in L.A.
Urth Caffe bakes all of its pies daily at its downtown location, and sends them out to one of its three shops around town. Aesthetically perfect, the pies are topped with a golden lattice woven crust made with butter and shortening and sanding sugar for extra crunch, a tip all pie bakers should catch on to. The individual, deep-dish pies come in an assortment of seasonal flavors. We didn't love the blueberry, but apple and cherry are both terrific -- either heated or cold the next day for breakfast. The pies are large enough for two people and usually are available on sale for half the price when they are day-old. We also like that there is a vegan option. 451 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles; 213-797-4534.
9. Marcie's Pies Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie:
Not to get too sentimental, but this pie from Marcie Jimenez, of Jimenez Family Farms, is everything that is right in the world of pie. It's the product of an organic, local farm. It's handmade. It's filled with real fruit. It evokes wonderful memories you may not even have of lazy days and berry-smeared faces. It's in one tin -- the story of pioneers, of farm women throughout history harvesting their fruit and baking it into pie to be sold at the farmers market. This one just happens to also be top-notch, home-style and happy-making. Grab one, and go have a picnic while it's still warm. Available at assorted farmers markets, including the Sunday Hollywood farmers market.
Cream pies -- a diner standard -- should really be in a category of their own, since the crust isn't baked and the filling is just poured in. It's not about flakiness or shortness, it's just about decadence. Babalu, a Caribbean restaurant that makes and sells a lot of pie, takes the win with its sugar-shock confection billed as a Banana Brownie Cream Pie. It starts with a cookie crumb base, topped with banana slices, pudding, brownie crumbs, more pudding, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. It's enough for three people, but why share. 1002 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; 310-395-2500.
Turn the page for picks 7 through 5...
7. Pie 'n Burger:
While there are quite a few restaurants in Los Angeles that are so confidant in their pie that they put the word in their name, none does it as well as Pie 'n Burger. Sure, it's an institution, on the scene since 1963, but what keeps it going is a dedication to making an easy-to-love standard. Flaky, golden crusts made with shortening are rolled thin and baked through. The seasonal choices include olallieberry, peach and strawberry. Classic and flawless. While you're there, the burgers are mighty tasty, too. 913 E. California Blvd., Pasadena; 626-795-1123.
6. Alcove Apple Pie:
Come here, line up and order the heavenly-scented cinnamon-spiced apple pie. Made with thin slices of slightly tart, still somewhat crisp Granny Smiths, a crumble topping and a glaze of frosting. When apples are sliced thin, there is more friction and therefore more binding, so the slice keeps its structure, which we love. Alcove has a full bar as well, so if you're there later in the day or for brunch, consider asking the bartender to pair this with prosecco or a bourbon-based drink. If you aren't feeling decadent enough from eating a large slice of pie, that is. 1929 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles; 323-644-0100.
5. Baby Blues Barbecue Porch Pies Buttermilk Pie:
This is buttermilk pie as it should be. The filling is rich, pale, creamy and very sweet, with the faintest tang from the slightly acidic primary ingredient. The whipped cream it comes with is superfluous, so tell them to leave it off. Delivered to local restaurants by charming Alabama baker Robyn Poarch, it's as authentic as you are going to find this far from the South. The unpretentious, hand-rolled crust falls on the thicker side -- and you for sure need a knife and fork to get through it. Or you could just pick it up and bite in. 7953 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-656-1277.
Keep reading for number 4 on...
4. Philippe the Original Apple Pie:
Baked fresh daily, this is apple pie for people who don't like their desserts cloying. The large pieces of apple have just a touch of sugar and a burst of lemon juice to keep them bright and fresh. The crust -- made with shortening -- is rolled thin and not gummy. The perfect foil to a French dip. 1001 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles; 213-628-3781.
3. Akasha Blueberry Pie:
This, dear readers, is a pie-tease. Unless you go to Akasha Richmond's eponymous restaurant sometime in the deep summer, chances are this won't be on the seasonally driven menu. But when it is, run over there and have them warm it up for you. That said, with a deft hand rolling out the dough, it doesn't much matter what the filling is, you can be sure it will taste better than can be. The blueberry was like biting into a warm Michigan summer. (Or Maine, or whatever location you associate with miles of blueberries. Santa Barbara, maybe.) 9543 Culver Blvd., Culver City; 310-845-1700.
2.Simplethings Sandwich and Pie Shop Pumpkin Pie:
Simplethings's pumpkin pie somehow transcends all thoughts of autumn -- and is thus appropriate any time of year. The texture of the filling is airy and has a balance of classic spices that give it a rich warmth that's incredibly satisfying. 8310 W. Third St., Los Angeles; 323-592-3390.
And for our top pick...
1. Cake Monkey Cherry-Almond Pie at Umami Burger:
Allow us to quote our dining companion on our third trip in three days to devour this: "Now that's a damn fine pie." It's hard to pinpoint what makes this slice to special, but allow us to ruminate. For one thing, it has a shatteringly crispy crust. It's burnished and bronzed and buttery and topped with sanding sugar, which during the course of sampling pies around town we determined is pretty much the key to nirvana. The filling is fragrant with almonds and balanced with tart cherries. 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. 850 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; 323-931-3000.
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And in case you think we skipped your favorite, here's a list of the other places where we ate a slice, two or three: 27th Street Bakery, Apple Pan, Clementine, Four and 20, House of Pies, Huckleberry, I Heart Pies, Larkin, Morfia's Ribs and Pie, Marie Calendars, Pie Hole, Republic of Pie, EuroPane, Short Cake and Polly's Pies.
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